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Authors: Brenda Cooper

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BOOK: Wings of Creation
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“What are they doing?”

“Well . . . they’re waiting on the fliers.” I’d noticed that already. “They don’t look unhappy. I mean, look, they’re all smiling. I’d wait on the fliers to be near them.”

“You’re addled. Do you think the fliers are better than you?”

She wanted me to say no, but I couldn’t get the word out. “Maybe.”

Her hair tickled my cheek as she shook her head. When she’d stilled again, she said, “The Wingmakers designed them to make you feel inferior. They’re taller and prettier and they can do something all humans want to do; fly by themselves. They also made them martyrs, and slaves. Since they can’t have their own babies, the guild controls both an income flow and their culture. The Wingmakers created a being no one would ever kill, so they could watch it grow. They even made Lopali first, designing it for the fliers while the fliers were cartoons on a drawing board.”

She almost sounded like she admired that, and yet disapproved. But then, it was probably a good strategy, and Induan liked a good chess move. “Isn’t that what they want Joseph and Marcus to change?” I asked.

“If no one kills them first. If they can do it. Marcus is good, and so’s your boyfriend, but the fliers guild isn’t exactly bad.”

I hadn’t thought of Joseph maybe getting killed for this. Induan tugged on my hand, the angle telling me she’d stood. She started us walking toward a small crowd of fliers. Always the strategist, she’d said something shocking, and now she was making sure I couldn’t respond right away.

She led me around the crowd, and stopped with us standing between a flower bed and a rock, which probably meant no one would step into us by accident. I didn’t say anything, just stopped and listened.

A few of the fliers’ voices were raised. We weren’t terribly close, but I caught a few words here and there. I heard Joseph’s name. Every once in a while, whole sentences would emerge clearly from the conversation. “Meddling . . .” cut off by “Daniel’s out of his mind. He can’t commit . . .” and then someone else saying, “. . . can’t fight.”

Induan’s hand tightened on mine.

“There’s almost enough of us,” a white-winged flier said.

“Patience,” said another one, and then too many people were talking at once again. I wanted to go closer. I stepped over the flowers, but Induan pulled me back so hard I almost fell.

I couldn’t ask her what she was doing. We needed to know what the argument was about. I tried again, tugging her gently in the direction of the group.

She pulled on me so hard my shoulder hurt.

We were both strong. But she was better—she locked my arm behind me and walked me a few meters away before hissing, “Quiet. Let’s go.”

I started to answer her but she slid a hand over my mouth. “Save the risks for another time. We can’t get caught tonight.”

On the way back to our own people, I kept my eye out for a feather to give Joseph. Maybe he was going to need the luck.


CHELO: MADE THINGS

 

 

 

A
fter the heavy feast, I tossed and turned so much I was afraid the children would wake. The ceiling felt far above my head and dark. When I did graze the top of sleep, my half-dreaming self imagined fliers inside the guest house, battering to get out, feathers falling all around me, the images so real I sneezed and startled myself awake again.

Even lying awake, my imagination replayed what I knew about the fliers over and over. Their beauty, the sadness in their ask-and-answer formal ceremony. The way giant wings made all of their movements foreign, their very balance occurring around different fulcrums. Theoretically, they were like us. But I did not believe that for a moment. Surely there was a point when genetic engineering made a different race entirely, and the fliers were there.

I gave up before dawn and untangled myself from the pile on the bed, lifting Liam’s hand from my shoulder and sliding Jherrel’s small arm from around my waist. As I fumbled for my shoes, I made a mental note to ask for small beds for the kids. There appeared to be plenty of everything in this town. In fact, since leaving Fremont I’d seen richness beyond dreams everywhere, even on the least well-kept of the ships. I was beginning to understand both why people from the Five Worlds found the settlers on Fremont hard to sympathize with, and why the original humans at home mistrusted the rich and almost unnatural people from other planets.

And of course, we six were both.

Maybe that kept me up. The idea that this foreign place could become home.

I succeeded in getting out of the door to our quarters without waking anyone else, and crept slowly down the wide, steep stairs toward the kitchen. I wanted to go outside, but I didn’t understand the rules we might be under.

This wasn’t home yet, not if I couldn’t just open the door and walk outside. I almost did it anyway, but that would be a trick of Alicia’s. A soft scrape of spoon against cup suggested someone sitting in the dark kitchen. Maybe Jenna—she often woke early on the various ships, and we’d shared col and quiet many mornings.

Instead of Jenna, the reserved Islan, Dianne, sat so quietly in the kitchen that I didn’t notice her until I reached the table. She smiled at me, and silently got up and poured me a cup of col. A pile of red, blue, and purple fruits I’d seen at the feast last night adorned the middle of the table. I took a red one with smooth, taut skin. I expected it to taste a bit like redberry from home, but instead it reminded me I was in a completely alien place.

Thin and tall, Dianne moved awkwardly, without Ming’s or even Jenna’s grace. She brought the cup to me and sat down. As we breakfasted in silence, I watched her angular face, which gave away very little of what she was thinking. She’d never really talked to me, not outside of groups, and she was usually quiet. But I’d seen her take charge well a few times, and when she did talk, she usually said something intelligent.

The sky was just beginning to lighten when we finished. People would be up soon.

Dianne caught my attention with a raised finger. “I’m going out,” she whispered. “Will you come?”

“Sure.” I took both our cups to the sink. She held the door open, closing it quietly after we both passed through. The graying of the light in the window had been a bit of a tease; it was dark enough that I could barely see my feet. Even though I had been the tallest woman on Fremont, I had to take three steps to Dianne’s two. We walked quickly in spite of the near dark, and in a few minutes I wasn’t cold anymore. “Have you been here before?”

She nodded. “Once. And of course, to the Autocracy where I was
born, and once, on vacation with my parents, to Joy Heaven.” She glanced at me, “And to Fremont.” She knew this was the only place I’d been except home. “Do you get homesick?” she asked.

Why did it matter? We’d never go back. “I won’t be once I know where we belong.”

“I’m seventy-seven, and I still don’t know where I belong.”

After a while, I asked, “Why are Islas and Silver’s Home fighting?”

We paused briefly at a fork, where she chose the path toward the city, clearly intent on some particular destination. “Pride.” She fell silent for a few steps before she went on. “Islas believes that Silver’s Home is experimenting too loosely with genetics, playing God too much. They want rules around the choices that are made, and to be able to veto some things. The Islan government believes they are supposed to chart Islas’s destiny, and that what Silver’s Home does interferes with their control. They dislike it when people like Marcus or your brother do things they say are God’s prerogative.”

“God?”

“A power no one can see or touch or taste, but that some people believe in with all their hearts.” Her voice was slightly bitter, but she had been born and raised on Islas, and left it for Silver’s Home. She took a sip of water. “Not many people really believe in God these days, that’s not the real issue. It’s a question of how much we should alter the created world. Since God’s existence can’t be disproved, he or she is a convenient tool for powerful people to use to pretend they are subject to something even more powerful.”

“What has Joseph done that this power might do?”

“Nothing yet. But once he helps the fliers, Islas may declare him an enemy.”

So she thought he and Marcus could do this thing. “But don’t the fliers deserve help?”

“Of course they do. They’re slaves. They’re beloved and reviled, controlled and yet sought out. Silver’s Home sees them as the product of its creative output, Islas as abominations. If they become able to bear their own children, then they’ll be able to take charge of their own destiny. They’ll be a race of their own instead of manufactured things.” She paused and we walked a bit more, the soft earth almost silent under our feet. “If they find the strength to claim freedom.”

I remembered my strange dreams of fliers battering the walls of our house, trying to get out. “They already seem so different I don’t think they’re human. What does it really change?”

We stepped over a little stream that ran straight and true in its banks, sliding through rocks covered with mosses that the rising light showed as bright green and a deep, nearly purple, blue. “For one, it will challenge the Court of the Five Worlds.”

“What’s that?”

“There are rules and laws that govern commerce between the worlds. Some define who has what rights, and as long as the fliers are human, they have our rights. If they aren’t human, Islas will try to give them fewer rights. And there aren’t any fliers on the Court to speak for them. Silver’s Home does now, but they might not if we succeed.”

So neither side would help them? That was why they were neutral? I chewed on my lower lip. All of the powers in the Five Worlds seemed so delicately balanced. “Why don’t they have a voice?”

“There aren’t enough of them. There are only a few hundred thousand fliers on all the worlds, so despite their visibility, it’s a small contingent compared to either of the big planets. Lopali has a seat, but it’s held by a human who doesn’t like them.”

Well, of all people, my family and I understood how you could be more capable but have less rights than the people around you. Fremont had tried to enslave us. “The world isn’t fair.”

The first morning birds began to sing. Dianne seemed to be listening for a moment, and then she said, “The fliers are as much a symbol as you are.”

There it was again. “So—why does everyone talk about me like they know my story?”

Dianne stopped me with a firm hand on my shoulder. Her gaze made me feel small and young and vulnerable. “Because you’re a story. The Five Worlds are an information economy—new stories fill up a whole planet in moments, and spread across us all in months. Joseph was a story before you. Islas is using your story, and frankly so are we. The Port Authority, who helped start the stories about Joseph, are trying to suppress them now, which is like fueling a fire, since everyone hates the Authority except the Authority itself.”

I swallowed hard, watching the rising light make shadows on her face, and struggling to think about what she said and not just get angry. “You’re using my story? Our story? Why?”

“Well, you don’t understand our worlds yet, even though you came from here. So you can’t be trusted to know how to spin your stories. For now, you must leave that to us.” Her face and voice softened a little. “So think about how you hated it when the Star Mercenaries killed the people on Fremont. I could see your heart in your face—you loved those people. Even the ones who didn’t love you.”

“I don’t want anyone killed, anywhere.”

“Well, I left Islas even though I loved it, because I thought too freely for them. You left Artistos on Fremont because you were persecuted and told to mind the leaders. You went to another island; I went to another planet.”

“That wasn’t exactly how it happened!” I protested.

“But that’s the story. And that’s the heart of it, right?”

Not really. But good enough for her. How could I possibly communicate the way the West Band of roamers loved us while the East Band didn’t, or how some would spit on us but some would help us? So I just said, “Sure.”

“It’s the same for me. I couldn’t bear to live on Islas anymore, couldn’t bear the control. I had to leave. I love Silver’s Home. It’s full of brave and clever people, even if some of them have too much power. I don’t want anyone to die in either place. So you see? I’m just like you.”

I’d reserve judgment about that for the moment. In fact, I was pretty angry, although I bit my tongue. The idea of my family’s stories being spread throughout the Five Worlds made my skin crawly. We were being used in a way I didn’t understand and across places I had never been. My life had been fed to strangers.

We walked over halfway to the forest of perch-trees before I felt like I had enough control to respond. “I’d like to see how these stories are told. I want to read them.”

“Your brother can find them for you.” Dianne took a few long steps to get into the lead, and then turned to the right before reaching the perch-trees. I followed, still unsure of her. Joseph was not, but as far as I could tell he was willing to trust her because Marcus did, and I wasn’t yet sure I trusted Marcus.

The path we followed looked like it might circle the whole town. From time to time, other paths, some dirt, branched away.

The sun, the whole orb now above the horizon, began to splay near-horizontal beams through the trees. It touched her eyes, then mine, so I held up a hand to shade them. Last night, as we walked into town and then to the feast, Lopali had seemed wild. This morning, it didn’t feel wild. Sure, I noted grass and trees and rocks, bushes and butterflies, dirt and, once, a thin stream. Flowers grew. Everything was big and wavy, the stalks thinner, but that was easy enough to figure—the lower gravity changed the way the plants shaped themselves. We’d seen that in the ship’s gardens. But something else about the landscape bothered me, even though I couldn’t tell what it was, like a name on the tip of a tongue. “How long has Lopali been settled? Is everything here native?”

I couldn’t see her face since she was in front of me, but it sounded like she was laughing quietly. “Nothing is native. This was a dead rock five hundred years ago.”

BOOK: Wings of Creation
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