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Authors: Nancy Springer

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We Don't Know Why

BOOK: We Don't Know Why
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We Don’t Know Why

By Nancy Springer

 

Copyright 2013 by Nancy Springer

Cover Copyright 2013 by Ginny Glass
and Untreed Reads Publishing

The author is hereby established as the sole holder of the copyright. Either the publisher (Untreed Reads) or author may enforce copyrights to the fullest extent.

 

Previously published in print, STARFARER'S DOZEN, Jane Yolen and Michael Stearns, Eds., Harcourt Brace, 1995.

 

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be resold, reproduced or transmitted by any means in any form or given away to other people without specific permission from the author and/or publisher. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to the living or dead is entirely coincidental.

 

Other Fantasy Works by Nancy Springer and Untreed Reads Publishing

Dreamfisher

Iris

The Boy Who Called God “She”

The Boy Who Plaited Manes

The Scent of an Angel

 

http://www.untreedreads.com

We Don’t Know Why

By Nancy Springer

So me’n Kris were basically out atmosphere-cruising in our solar wings, flying fast and low to the planet surface, kinda looking for trouble to get into because there was really nothing to do. It was a stupid planet, boringly Earth-like, just a little more gravity, squatty trees, lumpy stumpy animals that made us laugh the way they scuttled away from us. The wings didn’t flap or fold or anything, they were just standard helio-energized antigravity foils, but anything was better than staying on board and listening to my father lecture me about how I was lucky to be alive and I ought to shape up.

“Stop it, Mishell!” Kris yelled at me.

I stalled a little because he had startled me. “Stop what?”

“Thinking!” He swooped so low his chrome boots rattled a treetop. “So your brother’s dead, so what,” he complained. “Everybody dies sometime.” Kris was totally heartless and rude, which was why I had started going out with him. His coolness was a lot easier to take than sympathy, and Kris was totally cool. He never wore a helmet in atmosphere. Said he liked the feel of all those little air molecules in his mane of platinum hair. He had more hair than I did, and I was the captain’s daughter, but that was part of how Kris was cool. Nobody could tell him how to act or what to do. I didn’t wear my helmet anymore either when I didn’t need it for oxygen.

“Bet you can’t goose a goose,” Kris said as a riverside meadow full of some kind of waterfowl came into view. All facing away from us and making simpleminded noises through their lowered bills, they seemed to be eating the new spring grass. Maybe they really were geese, though on this planet they looked as short-necked as ducks, with wings that were oversized, big and clumsy compared to the rest of them, like mine.

“Go ahead,” Kris challenged. “Try it.”

Sneak up behind one of those downy waddling bird butts, he meant, and startle it silly. Scare them all silly. The solar wings were lightweight and shining and dead silent, like riding on light. If Kris would stop flapping his mouth, it actually might be possible for me to glide down and goose a goose.

Unless I caught a wingtip on the ground, in which case I would probably be killed. But I didn’t care. Since Mykel had died I really didn’t care about anything.

“Shut up,” I whispered at Kris as I kicked my booted feet up to slant my body downward.

He didn’t shut up. “Uh oh,” I heard him say in bored tones as the flange of one of my six-meter wings scraped on tree fingers and threw me out of control.

I nose-dived into geese flying up with a frightened clamor like they were a chorus for my panic. “Help me!” I cried to Kris.

“No way,” I heard him say, distant—he had turned his back on me, was flying away. “Are you crazy?”

I managed to throw myself sideways, turning my dive into a spin, a spiral that lessened the impact somewhat. Still, I don’t remember much. Just a major quaking resonance through my whole body. Then blackness.

*

My head hurt like a drum somebody was beating on when I woke up in a shadowy place full of soft lights. I blinked at the lights. Very different than the quick, hard lights on board. These lights seemed to breathe, like live things, yet they were so timid and dim that I could scarcely see the—people?

Behind each light, a timid brown face, a stumpy brown body. I had not known there were people on this planet. Neither had anyone on board, I guess. That was what we were here for, orbiting out of sight behind the clouds, to find out. The scanners had just been setting up to look and listen before Kris and I sneaked out.

These short brown people were not much like me. Generations in artificial gravity and artificial light had made spacefarers like me willowy and pale. But the bilateral symmetry was unmistakable, the two-eyed faces, the two hands holding the—candles? Yes, candles, I recognized the lights now from the Earthtime narratives. And I recognized that these were primitive humans.

That didn’t mean I wasn’t afraid of them. The more primitive humans were, the less broadly they defined “human.” These people might not recognize me as one of them at all. My heart started to pound, and I sat up.

There was a gasp, then a hush as if no one was breathing. Nobody moved, including me.

But then one candle moved. It separated itself from the ranks and wavered toward me. Above and behind it I could make out the hairless face of a strong, old man, a grandfather, a patriarch, a—chief? Lord? Secretary of the Interior? The glinting, elaborate apparel on his head might have been a warrior’s bonnet or a crown. I should have worn my helmet after all. Aside from saving my stupid, aching head, its mass and orichalcum gleam would have impressed this dignitary. Yet he did not approach me with any of the condescension I had come to expect from men in large hats. He came forward slowly, with a measured, formal tread, and in the stillness of his face I saw fear.

He bowed his head. Kneeled before me.

Only then did I realize that I had been lying on a raised—something. Dais? The candles all flickered as everyone kneeled.

The headdressed man said something, but of course I could not understand the words, not having a languagetran with me. Eye contact, gestures, might have helped some, but he spoke with his head tilted down, his eyes staring at the floor or maybe even closed—I could not tell. I felt as if he were speaking to me yet not to me at all. Then he shifted his candle to one hand and picked up something from the floor with the other. Blindly he stretched his arm toward me, offering—

Bread?

Brown loaves, dark and crusty as if they had been baked in ashes or something, definitely not a product of the electric simulator ovens on board. Even if I had been hungry, normally I wouldn’t have eaten such unsanitary-looking bread. But if I wanted to keep these humans happy, I knew, it would be a good idea to take one. I reached. There was a sigh, a murmur, as people began breathing again. I broke my little brown loaf in half, separated a mouthful with my fingers, and found that my hand was shaking. I ate. It wasn’t bad. All the time I was eating, the big-hat man knelt—reverent, that was the word. Or no, not just reverent. Awed. They all seemed hushed with awe.

Should have made me feel good, right? But it didn’t. I didn’t want their damn awe. Chewing the tough bread made my head hurt worse than ever, every part of me hurt, and I was still in my boots and titanium torso panels and wings, big clumsy things battered by the crash—I wanted somebody to help me take them off, and after that all I wanted in the world was a hot shower and maybe some soup and a soft place to sleep and somebody, a mother—right, like I had a mother—to tuck me in.

None of it was going to happen. I lay down where I was.

The next thing I knew, it was light. There was warm light pouring into the—shadowy place? Yes, same place, same stubby brown people. The shadows had been night, a primitive night dark as a cave, but now day streamed down in many colors. Sunlight, through tall glass windows between ribbed stone arches—yes, I had heard about places like this. They had brought me to a sanctuary of their culture, a haven of light, where they burned candles by night and by day the windows glowed with prism colors arranged to form bright pictures.

Pictures of—

Kris?

I sat straight up and stared—that is, I had to close my eyes until my head cleared, and then I stared some more. Each window glorified a tall, willowy, pale being with wings that shone like white fire. A mane of sun-colored hair. A blaze of light around the body. Chest plates on some of them, long white robes on others. Some flying, some standing—but details didn’t matter. My gaze caught on their grave faces, their wise wild eyes, their aureoles, their wings.

No. Not Kris. Kris had never had such eyes. These were pictures of—what was the word?

Someone was crying. I looked, and there was a woman kneeling before me with a dying child in her arms.

My heart turned over. The child, a tiny girl presented to me in a dress fit for a bride—there were big insects of some kind crawling on her frail face, and she was so weak she didn’t move to brush them off. She seemed barely conscious. Some sort of wasting illness—her tawny skin was stretched dry and hot over her bones. The mother knelt there weeping, a short sturdy woman with her black hair parted in the middle. That was all I could see, the very straight part in her hair, she bowed her head so low. What did she want of me? What did she think I was, a doctor?

A—what was the word—an angel?

I had to get out of there. I swung my feet down and stood up. Wobbled a little, but I made it. Braced myself against the—altar? Grabbed some more bread and some of the fruit piled there. My head didn’t feel too awful now, after more sleep, though my body felt highly unreliable. I tottered down the steps of my platform, then hung onto the benches—there were rows of benches with backs—and walked out. The place was full of people who parted widely to let me through, but then followed me at a distance. I could feel them gazing at me, at my pale hair haloed in the light of the aspiring windows, at my shining torso panels, at my shining flight foils that looked like wings.

They had brought me here—to this cathedral of angels—because they thought that was what I was.

And then they had brought me the child to heal.

What should I do? I would have saved the child if I could, but I didn’t know how. Should I try anyway? Lay on hands? No, that was stupid, I would be totally faking it. I was totally faking it. Should I take off my equipment? But if they knew the truth, they might kill me.

I did nothing. I did not even walk away for long. Outside there was nothing to hold on to, and I couldn’t get far before my knees started to give way. I sat down on the grass. This was a hilltop sanctuary. Down below were a village, a river in spring flood, people netting fish from the shore and pulling dead leaves out of gardens and going about their business. I guess they had to do that, even though there was an angel watching. Somebody had to fix supper. Life had to go on.

The river leapt and rippled like a lizard. Geese flew over in a vee, crying to the sky. The crying woman with the dying child sat down some distance from me. Other people sat down with her, very quietly, making a large circle, a halo of people, around me.

“I wish I could talk with you,” I said.

They gazed back at me with fear and probably some resentment, probably wondering: Why hadn’t I saved the little girl? Nobody smiled. Even the babies were silent, cute little stubby brown babies like puppies. I looked mostly at the babies and the children as I ate my bread and my fruit, and the little ones were not afraid to look back at me, their dark eyes wide and sober in their small faces.

“Don’t ever die,” I said to them.

I remembered Mykel, though his eyes had not been wide and dark, but gray and sharp like mine. My father and I would never know exactly what had happened to him. There was no hope of finding a body; there would be no ashes to scatter in space. I hated the universe for Mykel’s sake. I hated everything.

Except these people and their brown babies. I guess I didn’t hate them.

I heard cries, and thought for an instant that it was the yelping geese. But then the cries rose to screams, and I saw down below—two boys in a frail splinter of a boat, mid-river. Stupid, stupid, what were they doing on that killer water? Paddling hard, they were fighting their way toward shore, but the river was turning them broadside to the current. And the river was far stronger than they would ever be. They could not fight it, they would be swept away—like Mykel had been swept into the black hole—

BOOK: We Don't Know Why
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