Please, enlightened Page and endarkened Prime, let us get to the wadi soon or I will strangle this boy. Kyrus tried hard not to listen to Archie's endless babble, rolling his eyes in Werfas's direction. Whether it was in supplication or exaspiration, Wer picked up on it, again. “Archibald, if I may offer you pillion space on my bird? He's bigger and older than our Siwion's. Just to ease his fowl, you understand?” Kyrus could feel Archie's twitch as he considered this. Again. They'd traded off between them a dozen times over the course of this hellish run from destruction. I'm sorry I'm so touchy about this boy's talk when we're all recovering from burns, and deaths. The winds whipped up in the aftermath of the strikes are brutal, and filled with 'heat'. At least that's what the bees tell me. They cannot convey what kind of heat but it is something they fight everytime they say we are exposed to it. Archie squeals like a poked bakon every time. A dozen times we've swapped him around with others, lighter children, to 'spare my bird', and he has to think about it every time. Thank the light and dark that da had access to the best birds in Lainz, or we would never have survived this run. Ky whistled up to their Amir and got confirmation back on the wind. It was coming up to another hot wind and as they pulled their birds out of the line of march and dismounted, his guard pulling up to watch his back and swap out riders or water their birds, it roared up behind them, all out of place and time, blasting their veils and their clothing against them. The hot wind tore the edges of every loose bit of cloth, bees huddled in every fold of clothing. Ky leaned into his bird's side as it hunched its head down into its neck feathers and bleated distressingly. Birds weren't supposed to make noises like that. He grabbed his bird-cloth and wiped its eyes and face around the beak and the breakbeak. It tried to bite him as he did so, and the cloth came away red. It was bleeding from eyes and nostrils, tongue lolling. Kyrus felt sick himself and sat down for a moment. His bees ringed his wrists and he raised his veil to let them in to his skin, setting his teeth for their stinging assistance, and found the ringing in his head went away almost immediately. “Ouch! That smarts!” Archie raised a hand to swat at the bee who had just stung him and Werfas caught his wrist. “I wouldn't do that, Arch.” “Why do they keep DOING that?” He sputtered. Both Kyrus and Werfas stared at him. “They're trying to fix whatever disease causing shit that's in that hot wind,” Werfas said, finally. “As a scientist in training, surely you understand that the way the Lainz access and express code is through insectiforms?” “Does it have to be so painful?” Archie pouted and sat down for a moment. “Why aren't we to this water valley you're all talking about? You aren't just leading us off into the desert to die?” It took his breath away, sometimes, how shatteringly blunt the boy could be. “If we were doing that, Arch,” he said, struggling to hang onto his calm. “We'd just 've cut all your throats a day out, instead of carrying you all this way.” Wearing ourselves out to a ragged edge doing it, he didn't say. “Oh.” Kyrus could feel the bees. Code was thin here and Prime's strikes had shattered any kind of coherent programs in the land. The Hive that had come with Da and everybody else had been renewing themselves every evening as they went. But they had worn themselves out, saving people after the fire from the sky. They'd healed burns and bruises and wounds, in some cases holding human skin shut with their own legs and mandibles. Without the support of the Greater Hive and under the continual assault of the desert and the hot wind they'd been falling to bits. Da had a bag full of the mechanical parts of some of his bees looped onto his saddle. Perhaps once they were at water and his strength came back he could recall them, from pieces. Ky wasn't even trying to mander his dragonflies. He just couldn't. Ky's bees... the dozen or so left... settled on his knee. He looked from his suffering bird over to Werfas and Archie and beyond them a dozen children who might not survive to the wadi if he ordered them to save his bird. One of the bees on his hand shivered, buzzed her wings a dozen times, and fell apart into a glitter of sand and metal pieces. Caught in the wind, her wings blew away and were lost. He closed his hand gently over the remains of the bee, folded it into a bit of paper and tucked it away into his wallet. They're done. They can't even save themselves. “Why don't I take up little Deliah?” I want my butter tea. With honey, and chutney, and about three to
five litres of sun-cleansed water to make it with. I don't want to be
sitting in this dust with the killing dry over my head, turning into a
shit-raisin. “Come on, Arch,” Werfas said. “We should be at the valley later tonight. We aren't going to stop today till we are. With water and rest we'll be able to put ourselves back together, and my people are going to be there to help.” Now that Archie was being stubborn about starting again, even the sledges had caught up to them, the wood creaking and groaning as they were slowly ground away by the sand, the moas massive clawed feet thudding as they drew them on. “I don't want to get back on another bird as long as I live!” Archie kicked a rock and bounced back with a yip as a spunk lizard darted out from under it and got snatched up by Werfas's warbird. Da's bird peeled out of the head of the column and ran heavily back toward them. Archie turned to face the oncoming bird, fists clenched. His mother, behind Da, was still recovering from the code attack that Prime had made, before the air attack, looked haggard and very drawn over the borrowed veil. “Archibald Warren-Smith, third of your male line! If you do not get up on that bird this instant I shall tell your grandmother of your behaviour! And my uncles.” They were all survivors in the bird-drawn sand sledges. His father had disappeared along with his sisters. “Moth-ther!” “Your behaviour is reflecting badly on us in the face of two nations going severely out of their way to save our – to put it unscientifically – our asses! Get on that bird and stop complaining!” “Yes, mother.” Kyrus rose and bowed to the Head as Archie obeyed. “My thanks for your timely assistance, Head,” he said. Da's eyes twinkled a little over his veil but he didn't say anything. Good thing I didn't slide down into rat-slang.
“You're welcome.” Da laughed. It was harsh because they were running on the last water, and everyone was dry. “Tha's a good 'un. Right flash, splash 'o mine.” Ky couldn't help it. “Why most honourable and Radiant father, whatever could you mean?” His lip cracked as he grinned.