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Authors: Brenda Cooper

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BOOK: Wings of Creation
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“I saw you in the nets. Did you find Alicia? Or the others?”

Disappointment crossed his face. “No. But I’ll keep looking.” He narrowed his eyes at us. “Don’t you look. You’re not subtle enough here, not yet. You leave trails everywhere you go.”

I hated that he was probably right.

He started toward the ladder in the wall.

“Wait,” I said. “I need to know something.”

“What?”

“What are we doing? Sometimes I can’t keep all this straight. You’re a creator. You want to make things like fliers, and like your kitchen garden back home.”

He nodded.

“That’s what Silver’s Home is fighting for, right?”

“Except they want to own the fliers. That’s wrong. What we did to the fliers enslaved them.”

Kayleen jumped down and started pacing. “Wait—the fliers . . .”

“Just a minute,” Marcus said. “Go on Joseph.”

I think he knew my question but wanted me to ask it. “And Islas wants to slow Silver’s Home down, too?”

“Yes. But they want—different curbs. They want to control creation themselves. Centrally. That’s not right, either. You and I wouldn’t be able to choose, nor would any being that had been made.”

Kayleen stopped and frowned at him. “But what you want sounds closer to what Islas wants than to what Silver’s Home wants.”

“No. Not really. Islas sees us as too strong, too dangerous to their own laws. They say we’re eroding the careful way they’ve built their society. But it’s our very freedom that attracts change. Some of their own people, like Dianne, come over as spies or diplomats, or both, and they leave and come here.”

Kayleen cocked her head. “Was Dianne a spy or a diplomat?”

“Wait.” I didn’t want to let the focus drift. Marcus was still next to me on the perch, both of us above Kayleen. He looked out over the cave, as if he didn’t want to meet my gaze. “Look at me,” I asked him.

He did, his green-gold eyes bright in the artificial light.

“I know you want to stop the war. If Silver’s Home wins, they’ll have too much freedom. And if they lose, they won’t have enough. That’s what you’re telling me, right?”

He nodded.

“And if the war doesn’t happen, then what? What do you want instead?”

“What I’ve wanted all along. I want every being that gets made, and can think, to have their own rights to evolve, like we can. Rights for every kind of smart being. And more. If they can’t make up their minds, like my light-link butterflies—who are about as bright as dust motes, if prettier—to have a right to live. Anything that’s stable and can reproduce.”

On Fremont, everything was a check and balance for everything else. Herds of grazers fed paw-cats and demon dogs. “But someone still has to make decisions. Who is that?”

“A group of us.”

“You?”

“And you.”

Me? Make rules? Be like the Town Council at home? I wasn’t old enough. I searched his face to see if he really meant it. He was the closest thing to a real father I’d ever had. Steven had raised me well on Fremont, even though he’d adopted me and Chelo as spoils of war. But he’d died, and the man who took his place, Tom, was married to a woman who hated me. I’d finally found my physical father, only to find he had broken his moral compass when he’d abandoned us. He’d tried to kill a whole planet full of people in vengeance.

Marcus was better than any of them. He was passionate and smart and had taught me things I’d used, over and over.

But that didn’t mean I was ready to trust him to run the world.

Or me either.

His one little comment had almost paralyzed me. When I didn’t answer, he continued. “We have allies. Independent, unaffiliated. Almost an affinity group of people without economic ties to each other. They all want a world created and managed, but not by any central source. Not by just me or just you or just Silver’s Home or just Islas. By a set of guidelines that say all self-aware beings need to own their own future. Machines and things can be made and sold, except true AI’s. But not biology.”

Kayleen came and stood between us, bidding for attention. I slid my arm around her waist. “So how does stopping the war make that
happen?” she asked. “I don’t get it. If Silver’s Home wins, they’ll keep doing what they’re doing, right? And If Islas wins, they’ll make you stop, or they’ll kill you. Maybe you’re better off letting Silver’s Home win and going from there.”

He looked down at her, his features softening. He liked her. More than he liked Alicia. “If we have to go to war, we want Silver’s Home to win. But I want peace instead.”

“And the fliers help how?” she asked.

“We use them to make Islas bargain.”

I saw a problem with that. “But if you can win, why would Silver’s Home bargain?”

He looked away. “There’s a lot of us working on that.”

“How many?”

Now he shook his head again. “I can’t tell you. Not yet. There’s a bounty on your head, and I can’t risk a lifetime of work.” He did look genuinely miserable.

“But what if something happens to you?” Kayleen asked.

“Then Dianne or Jenna will take care of you.”

“Or Ming?” Kayleen pushed. “Should we trust Ming, too?”

He shook his head. “I can’t answer your questions. I’m sorry. You have to trust me.”

“I just want to understand,” she said. “Who’s right? I don’t get it.”

He shook his head. “This isn’t an easy fight. There’s right and wrong on both sides. That’s the real world. Children think wars are fought over right and wrong, and that the word truth has a capital T and can always be seen. But the real world doesn’t have absolute truths, and so you have to think.”

She started to open her mouth again and I pulled her closer. “I trust him.” Even if he did want to take over Silver’s Home.

Marcus asked, “Are you ready to go check on our work?”

I glanced behind us, curious. “Where does that door go?”

He shook his head. “I don’t know.”

“Can we look?” Kayleen asked.

I shook my head at her. “Sasha’s waiting down below.”

Sure enough, she sat at the bottom of the steps, looking up and wagging her tail as soon as we started down. If only I had the patience of dogs. I wanted to find Alicia, not head back to secure rooms
and play with genetics. And find Paloma for Kayleen, who must be worried sick, and Jenna for Marcus. We should be finding our family instead of trying to save the world.

Maybe I didn’t have the same drives Marcus did.

I wanted to stop and check on the war room, but Marcus passed it by quickly and led us into the small room beyond. It took an extra few minutes to wipe the dregs of the conversation with Tsawo and Angeline from my head and get down into the simulation.

Like before, Marcus built walls of safety around us. “Ready?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“Yes.”

There was nothing there. Marcus’s disappointment touched all three of us. “What happened?” I asked, still deep, the question as much a feeling as words.

“She died.”

Kayleen gripped my hand. Silence, and then he said, “Get ready. We’re going to watch her die, and see how to start again.”

Great. Just what I wanted. “Do sims die often?” I asked.

He sounded bitter. “Every time we make a mistake.”

26 
ALICIA: AT THE FESTIVAL OF HIGH SUMMER

 

 

 

I
kept expecting a shadow to swoop down from behind us and take us back to the Garden of Deadly Morning Routines. To make it worse, we really couldn’t look up all the time just in case we needed to duck, or run, or fight. So I felt like I was walking around with the short hairs permanently climbing up my neck.

It felt good to spot the painted wooden sign that proclaimed,
The Festival of High Summer
. I leaned into Bryan and whispered, “At least we know what season it is, now.”

He looked puzzled for a breath before he got it, then he held his arms out as if accepting the warm late-morning heat into his body. “The land of always summer.”

“Yeah, isn’t that sweet.”

He frowned. “Like your mood.”

“I bet Chelo’s truly mad.”

“I had to go.”

“We did.” This was the second time I’d run out on her. We’d still be slaves on Fremont if I hadn’t done it the first time, and once, Chelo had even agreed with me after we’d both had some wine on one of the ships. But I never really felt forgiven, and this might even be worse. Well, maybe not. I could see her face though, the way her eyes would look betrayed and her mouth would be a sharp little disapproving line.

We hadn’t planned. We’d left because Samuel had politely refused to leave us alone to talk. I just couldn’t take him anymore, or being
without Joseph, or hiding while bad guys were theoretically chasing us down. Bryan swore he needed to find Ming, but I think he’d finally realized Chelo and Liam and the kids were wrapped in about five layers of sanctimonious safety and no one would dare kidnap them. It wasn’t as if they were ever alone.

Besides, we
should
have heard from the others.

We wore blue. We might need to find this Juss, and Seeyan had said to wear blue. We’d also stolen some food, although we’d eaten it all last night and this morning. I wasn’t really hungry yet, but I would be.

All morning, waiting, while we hid by walking purposefully through town and back, and then sitting quietly for a while under a tree, Bryan had been listening inside himself. Hoping for a call from Ming. Instead of looking angry or tense, which fit the Bryan I knew better, he just looked lost. As if missing Ming was missing half of him.

I missed Joseph fiercely, but I wasn’t missing myself over him.

At least now there were other people walking alongside us. For the first time, I saw a real flier child, maybe fifteen. The child had black wings with deep purple highlights, and black hair that hung over her face, almost obscuring black eyes. She was thinner than an adult, and even less steady on her feet. But what really gave her away was the protective looks of the three fliers who flanked her. Bryan reached for my hand. “Don’t stare.”

Well, there was plenty more to look at. Sculptures had been scattered across the grass like windblown petals. We passed a tall thin rendering of three raindrops playing with a cloud. Nearby, as if the cloud fed them water, grand yellow flowers swung in the wind and tinkled softly against each other, the fake flowers giving off a real, sweet scent. Another sculpture consisted of fifteen or so perches all jumbled so close together it would be hard for fliers to occupy even a few of them. Its rounded base let it rock lightly in the wind. “If a flier did land on it, they’d get a ride,” Bryan said.

“Or fall down. I wonder what the artist meant? Do they want the fliers to sit closer together?”

He stopped and stared at it, too. “I don’t think so. It looks pretty hostile.”

We neared the open gates. About ten other parties also converged
on the path in a steady stream. Most were human, a few in formal robes like the ones Kala and Mohami wore, others dressed more like Seeyan. Maybe half looked like offworlders; either in the simple tan pants and mono-colored tunics of Islas, or the foamy silk dress of Joy Heaven. For allies, the two couldn’t have looked more different. To a person, the wild Islans looked more severe than our own pet Islan. At least Dianne had let her hair grow out from its just-above-the-shoulders blunt cut. People from the pleasure planet dressed with a hedonistic flare that was meant to look abandoned. Once, when I’d asked Marcus about the odd alliance, he’d said they were the light and dark of each other, and I figured he meant the Islans for the dark.

Paradisers, our allies, dressed like us, but had more muscle. Not Bryan’s brawn; more like a subtle strength that showed in the fine lines of their limbs and the graceful strength of their movements.

The fair smelled like sugar and fruit and wood shavings. Booths lined both sides of wide paths. Some drew the eye with bright colors and ornate shapes, or flapping flags. Others were understated enough that my eye wanted to pass right over them. Here and there, a booth-sized space held fountains or chairs or benches or both, some meant for water and talk stops, some perhaps as ways to admire the sculptures. In every direction, movement: people, flags, colors, fliers coming or going. Even standing here at the gate it seemed bigger than all of Artistos or Li Spaceport or Pilo Island. The immensity made even finding a man named Juss look tough, not to mention five people who were hiding.

Crowded places were tough to be invisible in. Even if you were watching in front of you, people could walk into you from the back. If I ever got to pick another mod for fun, it was going to be a second set of eyes in the back of my head.

Right inside the gate, two sculptors worked. An ebony-skinned man with bright yellow eyes and long yellow hair touched up the fine ridges of feathers on a twice life-sized wooden flier with spread wings. The flier imitated the sculpture I’d seen on Silver’s Home, except that the face had tears streaming down its cheeks, falling periodically down to water a garden in a pot at the flier’s feet.

The second sculptor was a thin brown man, shorter than me. He
painted silver fins on a ship headed toward a gas giant planet, the whole thing swinging on nearly invisible wires and the yet-unpainted part made of an unfamiliar whitish material. Both artists were failed fliers, with visible nubs on their naked backs. A small crowd seemed to have split between watching each of them, rapt, and talking among themselves. It saddened me to see two men who’d lost the ability to fly making art that detailed flight.

Bryan dragged my attention back to our reason for being here. “Do you see any of them?”

“Not yet.” The fair was laid out in a huge square, more than we could possibly cover in a full day. It looked busy in every direction. “Let’s go right.”

“Why?”

“We have to start somewhere.”

I walked beside him, looking right while he looked left. “I haven’t heard from Joseph yet, either.”

“You didn’t expect to.”

“That doesn’t mean he’s safe. We have to be all right on our own.”

He stopped and looked at me as if I’d shrunk a meter. “No. We don’t. We need each other.”

BOOK: Wings of Creation
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ads

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