Bird barn One wasn't as crowded as it could have been. The cuddle flock and the regular flock weren't getting along well, if only for the reason that the regularly trained and hooded birds were getting attacked every time they threatened one of the zardukar riders and their 'personal' birds wouldn't tolerate that kind of disrespect to their friends.
That meant that Barn Two was full, with regular bird-stalls and cubbies that let the Lainz stall six birds on a circle.
Everyone had managed to get get back before the violent storms had rolled in, some on the very verge of enormous whirlwinds that seemed to be flinging boulders about. Kyrus had seen several trunks fly right across the top of the wadi, before whipping away in the distance. His ears had been popping and he'd helped slam the door on the wild pressure changes with only a slight nosebleed. It had trailed into his veil and hardened there, an irritant almost as bad as Archie and his fluffy who had apparently attached themselves to him like stink-tights.
There was one spot in the Barn One, the new shelter, where water was apparently pouring down the cliff face and wearing through, where the concrete had actually been washed away, threatening the interity of the whole thing, but a ring of raghnall sticks and cross-braces had been propped up all around the hole, letting the water pour through, and then into the water channels and away.
Archie sighed and leaned against him and Kyrus tensed up. “Arch. Please don't do that.”
“Do what?” The boy sat up.
“Lean against me. I'm not your parent or your lover. It's not comfortable for me.”
In the sal'ar torches, everyone's face was hard to read and the Lainz had all pulled their veils down as a courtesy to the Nadu and the Milar. “Anyway, shut up. I want to hear this.” He was tired of being polite.
Ky wanted to snap a look at Archie but was too focused on what Elemfias was saying, backed up by the Konsiliarch and, of all things, his own ma.
Dag was speaking. “We all spoke one language, when we were sent out from Xanadu. We had our special dialects but we were all workers under Prime, Emperor Gregori and Empress Petra, and a third CEO Nancia, on another continent that we don't know anything about. We spoke something called 'English' with 'Farsi' words in it, or 'Romanian'. We were the workers and technicians that they brought to Xanadu, Hinnom and Sheol, on this planet, from the Home Star, Earth.”
She turned to Elemfias. “But something went terribly wrong.”
The Milar zon picked it up. “It seems that the three main owners of the planet had a falling out. Prime tried – and believed – that he'd killed everyone else.”
The reaction was an in-drawn breath. Then the Head said. “That's why he just tried to kill us all.”
Da and Ilax and the Konsiliarch and half the zon and the zardukar were all looking at her as if to say 'well duh' but no one said anything for the longest moment. Kyrus stood up. “He thinks he has the planet to himself. We've got to stop fighting each other and see that its us against HIM.”
There was a pause. Then Da said quietly. “Rather blunt, my son. But correct.”
Then the Konsiliarch said quietly, “Who do we cry to, for help in this case? Who do we appeal to?
Hara drifted awake slowly, becoming aware of Tizzy's warm, fast-ticking pulse, even as she snoozed, under her chin. The mist curtains blowing... no, all the loggia's shutters were closed against the pounding rain and howling wind. Somehow she'd slept through the start of the fall rains.
She hadn't been drinking. She'd... just... well... been working. It had gotten so interesting that she kind of lost track of time.
She could hear two people talking quietly in her room. Everybody was now just using the modern variant of Lainz and it was clear as a bell to her that Milari and Nadu and all the other languages she'd learned were based out of the same tongue and most were mutually comprehensible if one spoke slowly or about simple things.
“Has she made herself sick?” That sounded like Shashi. A baby burble over her words made it more likely.
“Probably not. You youngsters do this kind of thing. In my experience its what humans do when they're that age. Overextend themselves all the time. It's a good thing that she and you and the others are channelling that inexhaustible energy toward our common good.”
“Of course we would do that, Thriti.”
Hara opened her eyes just as Mother Thriti snorted laughter. “Shashi, sweetheart, you still cherish being old enough and a mother enough to relish using my first name!”
“There you go.”
Hara put one hand over Tizzy, who wiggled but didn't do more than snort and sneeze into her hand as she sat up. “I'm listening. How's Mariush? And Homa?”
“Siwion Haraklez.” Mother Thriti smiled. “Do you realize you have single handedly solved our problem?”
Hara blinked. “I mean... um...” she coughed. “I built something that can fly. Yes. But.”
“It's not entirely a solution. We need to find out more. Mariush and Homa are both full of a mild illness... a little fever. We have our baby Siwion safely tucked away now that the rains have come. We have water falling again, more water than we can save. We need more catch basins, more ways of keeping it during the Hell season. But. You have come up with fire drakes. One... to defend us from strikes by Prime. Two, fire drakes might be our path off planet. Three, you have given us single scale power sources that can, if soaked in water, provide power wherever and whenever we need. Girl do you realize? Do you REALIZE?”
Hara blinked. Shashi sighed and set the baby on the floor, got up and handed Hara a cup of naked tea, without any kind of fat in it at all.
“Thank you, Shash. Um... Mother Thriti... we needed something to protect us from rocks falling out of the sky!”
For a moment she revelled in having the covers pulled to her chin, the rain hissing against the shutters. She'd missed it. The two older women looked at each other.
“Hara, your development has every zardukar in Lainz either tearing her hair out, dancing with joy or jittering impatiently for you to wake up so they can pounce on you and start throwing their ideas at you for how these power scales can be used," Shashi said.
She sipped her tea to try and clear the fogginess out of her mind. “You mean... what we started weeks ago, I just solved?”
“But we can't just strap a pair of firedrakes to a litter and hurl it up above the air,” she said. “First of all there's the air problem, then there's the Prime problem – no way we can hide something like that from him – thirdly there's the... well... we can't just stick our heads up and scream and hope the right people hear us. Who does Prime answer to? Anyone? Could we pay someone to help us fight back?”
Thriti started laughing even before Hara finished speaking. “Lovely. I do love it when someone is so 'on the saddle'!”
Shashi sniffed. “I have a few more questions than that. I have some information that you might be interested in. Lainz has its own security, you know.”
“Of course the country does. Doesn't everybody? I don't know about you but I could eat a dozen warbird eggs at a sitting.” She settled Tizrav into the dent in her pillow as she got up and the ferret settled down without opening her eyes. “What information?” Her water jug was full so she began filling her face basin with it.
“It seems that that boy... that program you and I found... is rebelling against Prime and is running to us.”
Hara stopped pouring. “Terence you mean? For real? Not just a mimic?”
“Who knows what information he might have. We need to see if we can help him run, I mean if Prime is after him... he's an ally we really need.”
“An excellent suggestion,” Mother Thriti said, raised her veil and sipped her own tea. “Let us hope that nobody gets too jealous of the young man, should he manage to make it here.”
"So. I have a computer connection in my brain who has been programmed to mimic self awareness, and it – or he, since I identify as male – would like me to name him? It is getting altogther too crowded in here,” Terry said, more than a little sourly. The brain seed was apparently letting Mom do all the talking.
“He's just being proper as he was programmed. He never had anyone properly introduce you, since he seems to be a so called 'hot' item on the intergalactic market,” Mom explained, patiently.
“Well, yes, he would be a premium... wait... what do you mean 'hot'?” Terry sat on the backless stool version of the pilot's chair, with a holotable set up in front of him. As he talked to Mom he monitored her skin repair and occasionally tweeked the repair order and made notes about what raw materials would be better for rebuilding the bulk of her chameleon circuits. He'd already boosted her estimation for repair up a full day.
Eshmaeel and Davood were outside in that barren desert that they said was home. Davood was starting to show signs of beginning to break down the re-programming Gerald and his techs had done. He was starting to break down every so often in total confusion and rage and tears at the conflict of love and hatred for Prime inside his skull. Being outside in the sand helped.
Mom hesitated. She shouldn't have. “Well?”
“Hot as in stolen.”
Terry shrugged, heaved a sigh. “And you are not?” He leaned forward. “If you fix this part of the musculo-skeletal system then the self-repair impulses can get into this area faster. I suggest you not leave it in the queue where it is but move it up.”
“Yes. I see. I shall rearrange my priorities. Young Brain Seed, this is Terence Arthur Cameron.”
Terry felt the activation like a flood of taste across his tongue and a musical chord. “Hello,” a tenor voice said in his head. He wasn't sure how this was possible but he got the impression that his brain seed was shy.
“So how have you been, in my head so far?”
“Oh, sir I found so many things to read for you it was wonderful. I've been just recording so that security programs don't track me here and burn me out.”
“Excellent. Do you have any kind of preference for a name?”
“Um... Geoffrey? Or perhaps Agador?”
Terry went with his sense of the thing. “You like Agador?”
“Then, Agador, I'm very pleased to have you in my head.” He turned his attention to a flashing zone on the wire-frame representation of Mom before him. “If we can do this quietly, why don't we download everything you can get about the latest Ramtuff patents.”
Terry dozed in his bunk, really slept out but not inclined to move much while Mom fixed herself. The wind howled against the edges of the open cabin door though the breeze outside wasn't much. Not even enough to raise the sand off the dune they were buried in.
I can't just lie here rotting. He sighed and crawled out of the bunk, straightened his fearfully crumpled coat. “Tie your veil on,” Eshmaeel called from his own bunk. “Wear your hat, Terence.”
“I don't have a veil,” Terry snapped.
“Your neck cloth isn't a veil?” The boy sounded bemused. “It's rude to go bare-faced at home anyway.”
Terry shrugged and pulled his cravat up over his nose. It wasn't a swan'shead fold any longer, that was for sure.
As he stepped out the sand flowed away from under his feet and he floundered down the side of dune caught in the flood. His hat nearly strangled him on its cord and he found out why he needed to wear it, as he stopped, near the bottom, buried up to mid-thigh in loose sand. The sun beat on his head like a stone hammer. As he reached up to put his hat back on, first thing, he noted that his hair was already hot enough to be uncomfortable.
A little wiggling loosened his legs so he could clamber out of the dune and really look around. Off to his left, as far as he could see, was a forest of white stone mushrooms. “More like asparagus,” he muttered. There was no one to hear or critique him. Words from his seed floated in front of the monoliths. Shale buttes, mud stone, karst erosions.
In the distance the words changed, began to scroll carbonatious reducing environment, ferric oxide, iron hydroxide limonite, chlorite, biotite, haematite... “Stop it,” he snapped and the scrolling labels went away. “If I want everything explained, I'll ask.”
“MOM! You're repaired enough to talk?”
“Somewhat. Your seed is offended.”
“How can--” he cut himself off. “I'm truly sorry. I didn't realize it had feelings to get hurt.”
“Neither your seed... you really should bestow a name, Terence, it would make his existence ever so much easier. Ahem.” Even though Mom didn't have a throat to clear she still made a noise like it. “Neither your seed or I have biologic, hormonal driven emotions. We do have programmed cognates. People built us to be like them.”
“Of course. And you've been learning from my brother. What you and the seed have learned from us just boggles my mind and gives me the creeps. It's very fuzzy and feels dangerous.”
“I would not hurt you, Terence,” Mom said. “And only you can define what hurts, so that you may inform me. Basic, gross bodily preservation, mental preservation are one level. Anything beyond that, you have to tell me.”
“I see. Those buttes... it looks like there's very different desert past them.”
“Yes. Terence why don't you come back inside so I may close up and finish my repairs with you safe?”
“All right. Can I help?” He turned as he was speaking and looked back uphill to where Mom was buried in the sand, just in time to see her newly rebuilt front leg reach up to pull the flap of her skin off one of her screens, tuck it back in behind and hold it there for a moment, before flexing her front door shut then open again with only slight grinding noises.
Terry just fell straight back, scrambling away from Mom. He had never seen her from the outside, in good light and she looked like an enormous beetle/dragonfly cross. If he hadn't seen that she could squeeze down to a three by four metre room he would never have believed that the thing crawling out of the sand, the size of a small moon shuttle, was the same machine.
“Terence, don't you like the way I look?” How can a machine the size of a bus have hurt feelings? As she spoke the bug settled back down onto the sand with the door a few steps away, and he could see her outline shift as the thumb-sized cells changed colour and texture to match what she lay on. Then she shimmered and became just another bulge of sand dune. "I can change it."
He swallowed and shook himself. “Um. I was just a little startled, Mom.” Time to be honest. “Your bug-form scares the tar out of my lizard brain. Your camouflage is exceptional. If your cabin door weren't open for me I'd lose you completely.”
“Do you like it? My skin is a Ramtuff patent from only a hundred local years ago!” She sounds like a little girl preening. He managed to not think of what she looked like as he stepped inside and the vertical door -- thank the Page and the Patent that the designer didn't make it a horizontal mouth – closed smoothly behind him.
Edict from the Office of the Prime Source of All Knowledge, the Font of all Benevolent Intelligence
All associates of the Manager of Mental and Societal Laboratories, Gerald Rochambeau Alfred Cameron, his goodwife Jessia Maria Fitzmurray-Cameron, his maid, Anne, and all children of the family (including Joseph, Felicia, and Charity, the children of Anne) are required to report to their priest for catechism and examination.
By order of Immoderate Beauchamp Joshua Horatio Fortesque, Captain to the Font of all Knowledge. May all our knowledge support our place.
Dukir stood in his stirrups, reins slack. It wasn't just that the rains were coming. There was something off this fall. Something very, very wrong in the air. The hiding and hunting exercise had to be called off and called off now.
He thumbed the stinger in his ear and said “Your Radiance. There's trouble. If I may have your permission?”
The wind picked up, flinging thorns and dust into the air all around him. He couldn't see the other Amirs or either of the boys hunting the zardukar in this rough ground, for all that he was on a relatively high point.
“Of course. Call them in!” A click and the contact went dead.
He wheeled his bird then and raced back to the sledge base where young Archibald had his code set up, sweeping over the badlands, hunting the cuddle flock as if he were one of Prime's flying vehicles.
“Cancel this exercise!” He snapped. “Call them all in. Something's wrong with the weather. Something's badly wrong.”
Archibald blanched. “Is it another airstrike?”
“No... I don't think this is Prime. We do need to get everyone under cover.”
“Yes, Naser! I can do that!” Archie bent his head over his stone tablet and the dust in the air became an enormous mist curtain screen, showing Archie and Dukir, but a hundred metres tall.
“Call them in, Naser! They'll hear you, despite the wind!” He said, grinning.
“ALL ZARDUKAR, ALL HUNTERS, ALL AMIR, ATTENTION! THIS EXERCISE IS CANCELLED. COME IN, COME IN NOW. I REPEAT, THIS EXERCISE IS CANCELLED!”
On the heels of his weirdly amplified bellow the wind howled in across the desert blowing larger bits of vegetation. Then everything went completely still.
Dag heard the bellow from the valley and risked a peek to see if Kyrus hadn't just pretended to move on, so he wouldn't see her trick with the trees.
She couldn't see him or hear his bird's harness so she shot a dozen pebbles out, ducking under the crack of the motherthorn over her head and urged Silly out of the grove. They were clear and she was preparing to mount up when she heard Kyrus as he crested the hill. “Ma!”
“I heard, son,” she said calmly and mounted Silly. “They wouldn't have called us in before nightfall for less than a good reason.”
Their two birds raced up the side of the swale, claws screeching against the rock, up and over.
“Oh, endarkened!” Kyrus pulled up and pointed into the sky. A flock of bushies flew overhead, and past the wadi, past the possible den-sites for them, near water. Fleeing. But what could make bush dragons flee? Flee en mass?
“Stop gawking and let's ride,” she snapped, and gave Silly his head. The young bird, pleased to be allowed to try and outrun the older riding bird, flared his wings and ran.
They could see the cuddle flock coming in, could see the massive dust screen at the valley edge. Archie was saying “I can just expand my view... oh my little union organizer's left nut.”
The view in the screen retreated up and up and up and they were looking at what looked like an orange and yellow, red and green striped marble, with what looked like an enormous white eye spreading over the whole southern half of ... was that their continent?
“Oh my little union organizer!” Archie almost wailed. “That's a storm. That's a storm spinning off tornados like a kid spitting out melon seeds. That's a storm big enough to take your Lainz city and rip it right off the top of its butte!”
“Shut up, kid. We need to get everybody safe down into the valley into those shelters of yours.” The Amir next to Archie turned to face them, looking out, through the screen as if he were a hundred metres tall. “EVERYONE GET HOME. GET THE FLOCKS INTO THE NEW BIRD BARN. I DON'T CARE IF ITS ONLY NINE TENTHS CURED. EVERYONE GET UNDER COVER!”
Kyrus risked a glance back over his shoulder as if he could see what threatened them, and he could. It was like a green haboob all across the sky. “Enlightened and endarkened.” He put his head down and tightened his hands to catch up to his ma.
Shashi adjusted the baby sling on her hip, checking to see that her little noise-maker was fast asleep and looked around at the firedrake lying coiled on the floor of Hara's workroom, the torch set into its socket, vibrating as the scale on the end of the stick burned, the pieces of another contraption all around Hara on the floor.
Hara lay sleeping in the middle of a pile of quiescent scales and short sticks and what looked like a winged ladder approximately a handwidth wide, with a tail of scales.
“So this is where you'd got to,” Shash said softly. It wasn't addressed to Hara, but the firedrake's eyes flashed on at the sound of her voice, even though it didn't stir. She froze. “Hara... wake up please.” The firedrake's head came up, and up, and up until it hung over the two women, though Shashi didn't move more than her eyes to track it. Did it just get hotter?
Tizrav wiggled out from under Hara's veil and came bouncing up to Shashi as Hara finally stirred.
“Down, Drake. Shut down.” At Hara's sleepy mutter, the thing settled down again, though, Shashi noted, across the door she'd enteredy by.
“Hara when – ouch, stop that Tizzy! -- When did you last sleep in your bed? Or climb out of code? Or eat a meal instead of snacking on honeycomb?”
Hara sat up, knuckling sleep out of her eyes. “Hi, Shashi. I just wanted to finish some things.”
“A few things. Became 'just one more thing' hmmm?”
Hara got up, nodding. “I suppose.”
“So what have you come up with?” Shashi waved her hand around. “Your pet dragon is protective of you.”
“I'm still mandering them, the bees are still working on fitting them in with the real bushies.” She yawned and ran a hand through her hair, or tried to. “Fek. I'm an unancestored mess!”
“So get your pet dragon to let us out and we'll talk about what you've mandered and plan what to do with things.”
“Drake,” Hara called. “Back into your cradle!” The drake's sides heaved as it slithered off the edge of the platform and into the hanger over the drop off.
Hara grinned, and Tizzy chattered excitedly. “Shashi, watch this!” She picked up the winged laddery thing, it looked like a wide handled winged broom really. The bundle... or cluster of scales on the back end rattled slightly as she took it up. “Want a ride up to the top?”
“What? No! A ride? What are you talking about?” As Shashi sputtered, Hara pulled her veils on and threw one leg over the... hobbyhorse? Was that what it was?
“Open up a window for me,” she said to her bench and a portion of the rock over their heads began to cline away. “Watch this!”
She shook the handle in her hands and the bundle of scales on the back... it was a soft roar but a roar is the only way that Shashi could describe it... roared as they burst into flame. She ran forward and flung herself over the edge under the firedrake cradle even as Shashi screamed in shock and woke the baby.
The... fire broom, with Hara stretched out along it, soared up to the window. “I'll see you upstairs!” She shouted back over her shoulder, even as Shashi, patting the baby yelled “You're crazy with lack of sleep!”
The drake, hanging in its cradle, turned its head to watch Hara fly up, then turned its head back to look at the squawling baby, before sighing and lowering its chin back down into the strap.
“I agree with you,” Shashi said sourly. “I should have taken her up on her offer of a ride!
lay wrapped in his bunk blanket, his head jammed half into his
pillow, pushed back against the back wall as he could go. He'd
pulled down the privacy screen almost all the way. Without Mom
running the fans and filters it would be dangerous to sleep with it
locked down. But the temperature in the cabin outside dropped
precipitously once the sun was down and even his regular coat hadn't
been warm enough.
that he would have wanted Mom to zip up again even if he could get
her attention. It was horrifying to be locked into an inert shell
with no way out that he could control, though the manual had
mentioned emergency break-outs. Those were damaging to Mom and would
delay their getting under way.
were heading to someplace called 'Lainz', though Eshmaeel had been
appalled at where they'd ended up in the desert.
wind howled around the edge of Mom's open door and under the screen,
moaning. *seed activation. Terence Arthur Cameron,
identifier. Prime chameleon screen activation. Low
seed blossomed in his head, slowly, gently. A single code-burst to
the moon, now visible above should he look, downloaded all of his
waiting program in a tiny, hopefully hardly noticeable blip, shutting
it down behind him.
set his codes to mirror reflect any kind of strange code and put up
three layers of 'pretend to crash and burn' firewall in case any of
Prime's monsters found it. Then he paused before he went any
further. Waited. It was as though he could see himself encased in
his control bubble, his code around him, pinging around Mom.
*Terry.* Gerald's voice
recording was very tired. *I am recording this for when you connect
into your own code. I am assuming you have accessed coding somehow,
with all your wild courier friends. I disconnected Mom from Prime
years ago and I've been down here in the bowels of the lab,
bellyaching to a machine, while you rose up to go as far out as the
moon. I envied you, little brother. That's beside the point.*
connected. Excellent. Mom is now ceeded to you. Possession code
XG6-bb-4545-222-333-Xx-a DNA code as follows [a signal squeal of part
of their shared DNA]. She is gaining both knowledge and intelligence
and I like her a great deal better than the damned quisling robot
horse that Prime so graciously gave me, that I simply must ride regularly or he will suspect me of avoiding it.*
you stole Mom and now I have been given stolen goods. You know,
brother, I quite like your thinking. Prime doesn't deserve a
selfless vehicle like Mom. She's a mechanism, true, but I
personified Station. I was starting to hate Station, because I knew
she was not on my side. Such a human reaction.
you get out... take the boys back to their homes and find a place for
you to settle, ask Mom for the rest of the recordings if you like. I
don't think there will be a way to broadcast through
to me directly, without alerting Prime and having his wrath descend
upon you, both literally and figuratively. Usually he likes to kill
people at a distance, without ever having to think about it or dirty
his hands. He likes to think of them, not as people but unfit cell
cultures that are refusing to obey his lab rules.*
last note. Perrin II didn't just stomp off in a huff after a family
set to. He really left because his dear old dad was trying to kill
him, thinking he was behind a significant assassination attempt. He
wasn't, as far as I know, but he was just a child then, really.*
afraid that Perrin the First still hasn't forgiven him and is luring
him back with 'let's make up, lad, prodigal son, you're still my
Heir, of course, I'm not well and not long for this world [which is
bullshit but..] come home all is forgiven'. I told you that he planned to use my
research to make young Perry compliant and now I'm
afraid he'll retreat to plan B which is kill him.*
End of recording. Dated: ten days ago.
warmth was finally building up in his bunk and he actually found
himself sleepy. His code was woken up and active. Tomorrow he
should be able, carefully, to help Mom fix herself, though he'd be
careful to ask her permission, since he'd made such a big stink about
personal autonomy and free will and so forth.
still didn't quite understand what he meant. He'd have to work on
that some when she came back online.
Mom's structure was making all kinds of odd noises and when she released everybody, no one moved for quite a while. All that Terry did was run his hands over his face and head, wiping dirt away. Muddy smears showed on his fingers as he brought them down.
“Sand dune five hundred forty-five metres away has requisite raw materials for self repair,” Mom said. The whole machine lurched into motion, only four of her eight legs working, thankfully the damage wasn't all on one side. Three legs on the right and one middle leg and her shovel foot deployed on the damaged side, though it was not supposed to be used as a walking leg. The noise she made as she moved was like crushing glass and chewing sand but once the shovel foot brought the left side of the cabin level it was smoother.
“I'm glad you can repair yourself.” Terry said. A blown out flap of Mom's outer skin hung down across one corner of the screen, flapping, looking like a badly folded crystal display, each cell limp and pasty gray, with a spreading oily bruise in the centre. “Mom, can you feel pain? I hope not.”
“Each of my skin cells has a damage alarm centre and passes the information along to me. I do not feel it, I merely acknowledge it.”
“Ow.” Eshmaeel and Davood were at least sitting up. He could hear them rustling and groaning behind. “Mom--”
She cut him off as she stopped by the sand dune. “--I require all energy and processing space to repair myself. I will not be available to speak to for approximately fifty three hours. My water filters will be working and I will open the main access door and leave it open for you during this period. I will deal with the dirt once I am functional once more. Food printing will be available again in approximately seventeen hours. I suggest you not wander far, Terence, this ecosystem is more dangerous than you know.”
As she spoke, she extended both her shovel-feet forward and settled onto her belly, folded all other legs away as best they could and swam into the middle of the dune, sand washing over the screens as she wiggled in, light vanishing. Mom didn't turn on any cabin lights at all and Terry was left with his own ragged, bile-stinking breathing as company in the darkness. The boys didn't make a sound.
The glass crunching noises got louder until her cabin emerged out the other side but she didn't pull the rest of her body out from under, remaining nine-tenths buried. A metallic groan, the screen split down the middle and the door scissored open letting a whip of sand blow in on an icy wind. It certainly smelled better out there than in here; wet and heated metal instead of fear organics.
“The sun's nearly down,” Eshmaeel's voice came from the bunk. “These bunks are warm, even with that open. I suggest you lie down and we all sleep.”
Terry staggered up and back to the loo, where he wrenched the door free, kicking muck out of the way so he could latch it. “All right. Sounds good. I'm not going to stagger around in a howling wilderness after a storm like that, by myself or in the dark. But I'm going to wash. With all that moisture out there we can afford it.”
Outside, the sun had almost set, casting enormous black shadows against the white and yellow and red dunes, the white mushroom rocks looming against the retreating black clouds, the only living thing visible was the earthan whisper grass. “Lying down without moving for once would be lovely.”
The sun was nearly down. One of the zon had ridden by, checked at the split trail Dag had left and followed the false one, clearly dismissing the scratches in the rock leading to the dangerous trees.
Dag shifted slightly under Silly's wing and he twitched as if to stand up, but turned his head sideways to look up the trunk at the nearest thorn pods, and merely clicked his beak. The light was turning an odd colour, one that Dag had never seen before.
It was clear and still and a yellowish copper. The rains were coming. Everyone could feel it, but the clouds in the distance, like mountains, seemed darker. A breeze started. Just a gentle zephyr. Something was making her uneasy. There was no reason for her to be uneasy.
The scrape and jingle of warbird harness, the bells on the hood chiming as it shook its head. The rider stopped. “Ma? Ma are you out here? You've got to come in, there's a problem.”
But he didn't say anything else. You're going to have to try harder than that to fool me, m'lad. If there were a REAL emergency you'd be bellowing details, right quick like. He sighed. She could hear him from there and risked peeking out through Silly's feathers. “Ma?”
The wind picked up and a distant, faint rumble fading off into the desert. The rains would certainly be here by tonight. Probably in a handful of hours. “Ma? Come on!”
As Director Sander's goad came down and the line of warbirds leaped forward as if all twenty-six of the cuddle flock were racing. Dag let Silly have his head and he ran, head stretched, wings wide for a good hundred paces before he rolled an eye back toward her.
She leaned to the left, not taking up the silk, letting him know which way she wanted him to keep running. Dust was kicked up, shrouding the plain, hiding the rock outcroppings. Most of the others were heading for the rough ground, leaving a churned up trail.
Yasna, monk's robe flapping, rode with Zar and Shon and Nan, taking advantage of his clinery to fog and smooth their track.
Dag and Silly angled off to the left, away from the crowd onto the sand scrubbed low rock, pocked here and there with vegetation. “Let them use the rocks, my Silly bird,” Dag said. “I thought I saw some thunder thorns around... ah.”
The rock rose higher and Dag threw a look back, seeing their hunters restively waiting to be released. “That's my boy. I bet you come after me.” She grinned. Whether it was because he didn't want anyone else to find his mama, or because he figured she'd be easier to find because she was his ma didn't matter. He was about to find out that sneaky didn't need youth to fuel it.
Silly half slid down the other side of the rock, claws squealing. He veered sideways to avoid a spike bush and bloodburst patch, the wind scraping their thorns and spines across the rocks like a fork screaming across a plate.
“Thunder thorns. Thunder thorns... there they are!”
Thunder thorn trees grew almost as large as the lollipapera, black, twisted trunks that spiralled up to the last twelve metres where the yellow whiplike leaves sprouted straight out of the trunk in a poof like a warbird's topknot. In the open they often grew in overlapping, concentric rings given their strange method of spreading their seeds.
Their flowers and seeds, like the leaves, grew directly from the trunk, yellow puffballs that became hardened, hooked spines on a bulbous base. When ripe they would randomly burst with enormous force, driving the seed spike nine or ten metres away from the parent tree. Except when disturbed. If something brushed the tree, or caused tremors in the ground nearby, any fruit near to being ripe would explode out, hooking into and injuring the unfortunate creature. A warbird chick could stagger a fair distance before it bled to death, providing a source of food for the seeds hooked into their flesh. Even bush dragons avoided thunder thorns.
Dag pulled her catapult out of the saddle socket and said “Silly... down and sit.”
She hopped from the saddle, grabbing a handful of loose pebbles from the ground. Over the ridge she could distantly hear the others. She had some time yet. She pulled the rubber cording back to her cheek, sighted carefully and hit the biggest, oldest tree in the centre, smack in the trunk and then ducked in case she wasn't quite far away enough.
That tree's seeds hit daughter trees all around it with a rat-a-tat and the whole grove went off, seeds firing out to skitter and clatter all around into cracks in the rock around the dip in the the ground where they'd found enough to root. The rocks probably funneled the spring and fall rains into it.
Her second pebble triggered another cascade of rattling injury, but a third, a fourth and a fifth rock brought no reaction at all. “Silly,” she said, “follow me... side, Silly. Side.” Her bird picked up his silk in his beak and rose up to follow her, back and to the left.
Dag looked back, saw the scars in the rock where Silly's claws has scratched, the scuffs in the dust. She'd have to deal with those in code after she found her hiding place. It was hard to walk in between the thorn trees and Silly followed her, whining and creebing, his head hanging down around her feet as if he could crawl under the veil she held tightly around her.
At the base of the old tree there was a hole in the rock where it had rooted, climbing up the side with roots like metal fingers. If she got Silly to sit down here, there was no way for any hunter to see them. His feathers were like the drifts of dry whip leaves mounded up all around, yellowish brown. And the hunters wouldn't think anyone was crazy enough to hide here.
“Silly, sit! Haboob, Silly. Haboob.” The warbird had never been in a haboob, didn't know the word, but knew the action required and dropped into a crouch, holding out a wing for her to hide under.
He smelled of dust and the perfume he'd stolen from Zazu and groomed himself with this morning. She stifled a sneeze and grinned. If the hunters didn't know that Rainsflower didn't grow under Thunder thorns, she was fine.
The young trees armed faster but she was safe inside the circle of the mother tree, since none of the saplings could reach her in the centre of their thicket. She had roughly till nightfall before the mother tree was dangerous again. She peered up though Silly's feathers, scratching his chest gently.
The first seed pods that might be a danger to them were on the trunk five metres up. She'd just have to trigger the tree again then and stay ducked under the barrage, when she wanted out.
Terry couldn't hear himself screaming. In all the insane noise and the hammering on Mom's skin, he could feel himself screaming. There was no light at all and the air in the cabin boomed and popped as the sandflea flexed around them. His ears popped and popped again, then he could hear the boys screeching behind him.
The restraints vanished again and then slammed him against the chair just as he began to fall upwards, then came on variably, on off, half on. Terry tried to clamp his lips shut against the slosh of bile up against his teeth but couldn't manage it. Wet things flew around the cabin, and then something smashed and there was dangerous bits in the air as well.
The high pitched shrieking alarms from Mom, alerting to damage where like cats in a sack. The vehicle had snapped it's flexible tail up and around the windscreen to save it from damage and light began filtering around one edge where her teguement was too damaged to hold tight.
“Wind speed dropping to 286.46 kilometres per hour,” Mom said. “Unfurling.”
Terry could only cough and cough and spit, incapable of saying anything as the sandflea unfolded, the hundreds of skincell alarms shrilling as, cabin facing downwards, the tail extended whipping, fluttering wildly in the screaming winds, dirt and debris still scouring them, their fall... or rather their bouncing motion in the trailing skirts of the funnel cloud smoothed out slowly as Mom corkscrewed in the air.
“I...” Terry couldn't raise a hand and the boys had quit making any kind of noise at all that could be heard in the howling tumult. “Mom.”
“I am slowing our fall. Wind speed 183.43 kilometres per hour. Height 5,149.9 metres and dropping.”
“Are we... are we... going to crash?” His throat was raw and even in the supposedly pristine cabin there were bits of things everywhere. The loo door had popped and swung open till it grated to a stop on something.
“Negative.” It was making him dizzy to watch the ground below spin, but he could see that their drop rate was slowing dramatically.
“Mom, are you damaged?”
“Yes. My skinbrain has gone stupid.” Her skin has brains? Of course. Each skin node acts like a node in a nerv-- the sandflea lurched sideways in the air and the squall she made was almost like a living thing.
“I am still functioning. We were struck by a stone chip.” That must have been some 'chip' to hit us that hard. “Height 3,001 metres.”
“What's our fall rate?”
“According to my E6-B we are still falling at fifty metres per second... slowing... thirty four metres per second... attempting deployment of skin. Unsuccessful. Twenty metres per second.”
“Mom... is there a body of water anywhere in reach where we could land?”
“Negative. Attempting re-deployment of skin. Partially successful. Glide mode engaged... fall rate stabilizing forty to one.”
The howling winds had marched away, ahead of them, plowing up dirt and debris, like fingers of sand and rain and hail trailing along the edge of what Terry could see now were mushroom rock badlands. “No place to set down there, except in the desert itself, Mom.”
“I am scanning. I require silicates and carbon in high quantities to repair myself.”
“Terence? My head hurts. What is that roaring noise? Eshmaeel is still unconcious. I'm going to...” Davood had enough dinner in his system to throw up more of it. Wonderful. The air and floor scrubbers weren't functioning.
The ground was coming up at them frighteningly quickly for an unpowered vehicle and Terry wanted to fling his arms over his face, but settled on closing his eyes. “We're about to land! Brace --”
Mom extended her running legs as far as she could, he could see the front pair and the broken tips of the next pair back, reaching forward. “Coming in for a landing.” The legs began churning in the air, matched to their airspeed and when they first touched it was like she landed running. They bent back almost ripped off but retracted enough to let the second, third, and fourth set take the shockwave and then the first legs again.
It was like a long, screaming, bounding hopping scramble, a brutal parody of Mom's normal motion. She used the stumps of two legs, thinning them out to reach and one snapped again, even as she slowed from a mad scramble to a trot, then to a stop just to one side of the funnel cloud's ploughed track. “Landing successful.”
Mom was almost at the top of the cliff, a few minutes more and they'd be up over the rim when the vehicle stopped. All signs of bug life, swarms everywhere, were suddenly gone.
“Mom?” Terry couldn't help his reflexive look around though they only had the forward screen on. “What's wrong? Why have you stopped?” Cringe bushes folded themselves into the pockets where they grew, though there was nothing to threaten them that he could see.
“Brace yourselves, please. We require a protected spot. There is a rogue cluster of storm cells forming.”
“The rains?” Terry looked around, bewildered as both Davood and Eshmaeel dove out of their chairs and into bunks as if they were somehow safer. The rains came through Xanadu regularly, twice a year, but they were, at worst, cute little thunderstorms.
Mom activated screens showing all the way around, even as the machine scuttled sideways into a tsingy crack that was too small, that narrowed too fast to fit into. The cabin began creaking and groaning as the mechanical legs dug into the stone and the skin of the sandflea writhed around to try and present a rounded profile to the storms bearing down on them. The wind came first, hurling sand from hundreds of metres below against them like the clatter of nails flung against brick, then stones.
The clouds had boiled up across the basin, building speed and fury, greenish black with a hundred or more lightning strikes hissing into the sand under itself. “What?” The colour of the light went coppery orange.
Terry braced himself as full restraints came on and the cabin roof lowered. “I am engaging emergency protoc--”
The first hit was loud enough to make the sandflea ring like a bell and the screens showed nothing now but sheets of rain wrapped around them like a fist. Then another hit and suddenly hail bounced up into the cameras, balls as big as Terry's fist and then the roar as the rains turned entirely to ice and hammered over them. The shattered eyes of broken hailstones stared in at them, rings of white and black, unblinking, before tumbling down sliding away into the murk. Some had spines like enormous glass bugs, broken spikes. Torus shapes that spun in wildly unpredictable trajectories.
Terry's mouth hung open and he couldn't even move to put his hands over his ears as lightinging shining green flickered, flickered, flic---KAWHAMMMMMM! Mom slipped. The lightning had hit close enough that the rock broke and the sandflea lost its grip. The screeching of metal feet against their dubious shelter could clearly be heard over the – CRACKBOOM, KAWHAM! KAWHAM!
Dirt and flying vegetation turned the wind reddish black and a tree of some kind flew into splinters against the cliff, silent in all the other noise.
Screens flickered and went out as Mom shifted all power to her legs. One screen only, showing the sky and the funnel clouds dropping down down down. One, two, three, five, a dozen. More. They marched across the bit Terry could see he clutched at the arms of his chair as his protective restraint shut off for a microsecond. CRACK! CRACK! SCREEeeeeeeeee
One of Mom's legs, the lowest part flew upwards, ripped right off the machine. “Full restraint, Impact node engaged.” He could barely hear the vehicle's voice as Mom was peeled out of the crack in the rock, her anchor feet sheered off completely.
Every internal light went black and he could only hear the pounding roaring snapping CRACK KABOOM.
SCReeeeeeeeeeeiiiiiii ---The sandflea snapped into a roughly hexagonal ball as it was flung into the sky, by one of the funnel clouds.
Sander was mounted up on a big-old warbird with a beak locked completely down and both hood flaps down tight. It was restive, even so, spreading its white and brown speckled wings, flaring its tail, showing bright red flashes. It stamped, showing off the spurs as long as Kyrus's sword, though curved back on themselves. They weren't at war so Sander didn't have the sharpened spur covers laced on, but the natural point shone wickedly just the same.
The cuddly flock, with the zardukar on their backs, bounced in place, heads unhooded, razor beaks gaped wide with excitment at the prospect of another new game, their red eyes bloody and crazed looking entirely at odds with their natures. It was clear that they were human partners rather than chained force labour. Even in the middle of their bouncing and squawking and head-slamming each other, they'd arc their heads back to gaze at their riders and get a quick scratch before going back to being the over-grown half-trained chicks that they were.
Ky's bird had recovered from the horrid trek across from Nadu and was restive itself. “We'll have to do rain training soon,” he said, looking at the distant clouds boiling up from the edge of the continent. “The rains are coming.”
“And the Nadu will have the last of their shelters up today,” Werfas said. “They won't wash away even if the rain comes tonight.”
They were up on the cliff, with the desert stretching in front of them, full of rock waves, spike bushes and crevasses, until the mushroom rocks began, offering a thousand thousand hiding places.
“Siwion,” Sander called. “I would like your wingbrother, and the Siwion of Nadu--” he indicated Archie, grinning behind his own veil on a platform next to him, with one of their stone tablets on his lap. That's where the annoying boy had gotten to. “--and our Amirs, hunt our students each in their own way. I would like you to seek them in code.”
Kyrus nearly wilted in dismay. “Yes, Director,” was all he said. I'm better as a warrior then as a coder! Then he nearly rebelled completely, as Sander directed with his goad, that he should ride over to Archie and work with him. “You should be able to work with your new Nadu friend on bird-back, Bright One,” he said drily. Ky swallowed hard.
“Hey, hey,” Archibald stood up and nearly overset his platform, which was one of the Nadu sledges with a box to raise him up higher. “Kyrus! Great! Wonderful! We'll find 'em won't we?”
“We'll certainly give them a hard exercise,” Ky said, his bird tensing between his legs as he controlled his tongue. I don't like you, boy. “You don't have your pet around to distract you, do you?” The fluffy had made it through the trek surprisingly well, having gone almost dormant.
“Oh, no. This is working!”
Sander had been speaking to Werfas and a half a dozen mounted Milari and his Amirs. He straightened and raised his goad in the air. “Zardukar! You will have an hour's head start. You are to do your best to do this entirely in this world, with no help in code if you please. I want you to do your best to disappear in the face of everything I can send after you. If you are uncaught by nightfall, return and we'll make sure there's something reasonably good for supper! Anyone uncaught will be exempted from camp duty for a full week.”
“The rains are about to hit,” Archie said. “Nobody will have much to do until they ease through!”
“Yes, I'm sure everybody knows that anyway, Arch,” Kyrus snapped. “You don't have to keep saying the obvious!” He refused to see the injured look Archie threw him.
All eyes were on the Director who brought down his goad with a snap. “GO!”
The wadi was transformed. All along the edge of the cliff, in the deep shadow where the grey tigers had lurked in the thicket, shelters were going up in the same bushes. The Nadumon had unpacked something that Kyrus hadn't realized would be their new homes. It had been a large, extremely heavy box that Da had initially wanted them to leave behind. Once they'd explained he was on at them to sell the idea to everybody else.
The rolls, each ranging from tiny three metre wide bundles to the bigger ones wide as the sledges were long and then some. Each shelter was rolled out in its proper place and staked down, then a double pump was attached and two people began inflating the bread-loaf shape. As the domes expanded Nadu, in protective clothing harvested and stripped the whippy eyebleed stalks and set them in channels in the structures where doors and windows were clearly delineated. Then the children were sent to fetch water in an atomizing pump that rolled between them, to spread the water to its maximum.
Kyrus sat, just watching the newest home go up. The roll was a dome full of concrete dust. Once inflated and soaked through, it was left to harden in place. Once it would maintain its shape without the walls cracking the doors and windows would be cut out. In the heat of the day a shelter could be inflated in the morning and by next day it would be liveable.
“Heya,” Werfas said. He settled down next to his wingbrother.
“They're putting stone designs into their new houses,” Kyrus said. “I never had a home that I wanted to make beautiful, until I was living in Milar.”
“It's a kind of fik you to the universe, I think,” Werfas said. “Or to Prime, even though he doesn't know it. Like saying 'You tried to kill us. You tried to burn us from the sky but we're still here. Fik you, you didn't take my life. You can't even make it completely ugly.'”
“Huh. I guess.”
Werfas nodded. “We Milar have something like it... We call them scarfs and don't mean the face/neck covering. The Rumon and the Hippefrey have the same kind of feasts that are kind of the same idea that they call woofs, like 'woof it down'. They're all a way of saying 'You tried to kill us, you didn't succeed. Let's eat.'”
Ky laughed. “Let me guess. You got taught that by Zon Elemfias.”
“Yep. It was human cultures class.”
“And this was just in the eleven years since we tried to force you into our culture.”
“Nah, it's an old class. Nothing to do with you Lainz egg-crackers.”
“Careful, wingbrother I'll spit my lung gunk in your tea.”
“Ew. I actually came over to get you. Director Sander wants us to saddle up to help the cuddly flock learn battle moves. He wants us to be 'it' and see if they can catch us.”
“Oh. All right. Sounds like fun. Where's the fathers?”
“In talking with the zon and the Head.”
“Oh enlightened, let's go do something useful, before Archie finds us.”
“He's not so bad, just kind of blunt.”
“Yeah, you didn't have him being blunt in your ear all the way here.”
They got up and trotted over to the bird-line. “Your ma's going to be one of the cuddle-flock chasers you know.”
Ky stopped dead. “No. You're kidding. My ma learning to fight? That's not right.”
“Sure it is. You don't mind the other girls who hatched their birds fighting.”
“But but but but --”
“--Just forget she's your ma. You wouldn't mind Hara doing this.”
“No, but. She's my mother.”
“OOOOOOOHHHHHHHhhh.” He kicked a rock over and watched the scarlet skitter away from where it had been hiding. “Just... never mind. Just. Just... forget it.
Mom had extruded three chairs for them in front of the screen so they could all see forward. “Terence, I have reached the lowest cliffs on the continent.” Eshmaeel looked sideways at Terry. “This is where we came down. It took us days to find routes down for our birds.” “Your warbirds that you ride. Didn't your people manage to keep horses? You said once that you did.” “Yes, but horses are so hard to keep that only the most wealthy have any at all. They need the grass, they don't handle the sand that well, the heat sickens and kills them. Wild flocks of warbirds sometimes climb the canyon walls to eat them.” “I see. How charming.Only the wealthy? I suppose its not so different from Xa---ahm.” Terry coughed as Davood looked over from his chair. He was only partly there, because of Mom, but some words still set him murderously off. “Gentlemen,” Mom said. “I am about to commence climbing. Brace yourselves.” Since their talk, Mom no longer arbitrarily slapped restraints on them all, unless imminent bloodshed was obviously about to occur. She was requesting more information about restraint and control issues in a larger context than just her cabin. The sandflea reared up against the tsingy, almost ninety degrees from the jagged bit of rock shelf on the bottom and the front two 'sand-paddle' legs neatly folded away out of sight under the screens. Her main body was spread out long enough to make her motion easy, and very fast. Looking almost straight up, Terry saw the fans of water falling from above, the massive green/brown river's end pouring over the lip and then spreading and spreading into silver and white fans of spray that reached them as a light mist. The screens were self-clearing so the water beaded and rolled off. As Mom reached for the either side of the vertical rock spine in front of them, Terry turned his head one way and the other. Smaller rivulets all along the edge glittered in the harsh sun that evapourated them away, blowing the water into the air, eventually fueling the storms that would fill the south pole lake. The rocks all around the smooth channels were soaking wet, covered in green and orange. Terran green and Chishiki orange and maroon. The plants grew up and out, all around, sucking in the water that trailed away to the bottom of the basin. Flocks of beetles ranging in size from a fingernail, to the palm of his hand swarmed on the rock. Every once in a while a whole swarm of iridescent golden beetles would fly up and out, like a spray of gilding looking for an artwork. Cascades of succulents trailed from under the edges of water, blooming in waving spikes of waxy reds and bright pinks. “Oh, look,” Eshmaeel pointed. “The eyebleed has spread.” Terry looked at the spindly orange branches hanging out from the cliff like whips longer than Mom could stretch. The bright blue flowers at the very tips were full of the golden beetles, weighing them down till they bent all the way down toward them, and touched the walls, triggering a flight. “This is a good thing? I've never seen anything called 'eyebleed' greeted with enthusiasm.” “If you get it on you it makes your eyes itch until you scratch them bloody, is all,” Eshmaeel explained. “But once you get the sap out it makes paper and rope and curtains and hundreds of things.” “Right.” The sun was setting off to their right and as Mom's claws on one side slipped a bit and they all lurched against their chairs, the deep shadows off to their left lit up with what Terry at first thought were stars. “What in Page and Practice are those?” Eshmaeel laughed. “Those are just butt-lighters. Don't you have them? I thought I saw something like them on... that place. In fields though, not rock cracks though. Their butts flash bright white like that when they're trying to attract a mate.” “Butt-lighters. They're a lot brighter than fire-flies.” “Fire-flies sound dangerous.” Davood looked vaguely at them, smiling a little. “They're not. Just a beetle with a flashing 'I'm available' sign on his abodomen. Sometimes I think it would be easier for human men to do something like that.” Eshmaeel stared at him instead of outside for a long moment then flung himself back into his chair and roared with laughter. “What... what would pants be like? Would men even wear pants with a closed butt if... if...” He lost words. Terry blinked and started laughing as well. He couldn't help it. Howling, he finally gasped. “No coat would have a back, the women... would comment on how bright a light you shone out of your anus!” “Oh. Oh. I'd never hear the end of it from my mother if I accidentally let my ass shine at a family gathering!” Terry imagined his ass lighting up in the middle of a formal tea, say just as his father was offering the standing toast to Prime, the light flashing out from under the tablecloth. A fart was at least invisible and you could deny it. But his ass flashing because of a pretty girl next to him? He nearly choked. Feeling filthy and seasick and desperately nervous of this whole journey he finally lost his composure and the two of them laughed until they cried, while Mom climbed.
It takes me a while to calm Tizzy down. She keeps hiding or trying to hide under piles of things on my desk and then, if she doesn't knock everything down, sticks her head out to hiss at my firedrake. I'm nearly ripping my hair out over the code that runs it.
It is a beautiful organic machine, that soaks up water and then can burst into flames to drive it very, very quickly across the sky. Like a real bush dragon it can undulate up and down or side to side in the air, though unlike a bush dragon it only uses its wing scales for control rather than actual flight. That might be useful... to have it mimick real bush dragons and only use the small powers when or if we actually need to place them out around the whole continent. Or it could lie quiescent at the bottom of rivers. That might be the real way to keep Prime or any of his people finding them, seeing them as what they are, new constructs, not just the old terraforming programs lumbering blindly on.
It can also corkscrew through the air and on paper it looks like it could actually float down to earth, headfirst, since its tail could thrash it down. I pull Tizrav out from under my shirt where she is making a determined attempt to dig her way down my sleeve, scrambling in my armpit. I hold her up so we are nose to nose.
“Tizrav! You are brave. Stop it. This dragon is my firedrake. My code. Mine. Understand?” She is a very brave tiny one to fling herself whole-heartedly at my firedrake's head when she saw it and thought me in danger. Her fur stands up in dried spit spikes where the drake grabbed her mid-leap and held her. Since it isn't a real dragon, it has no gullet, no gut, no lungs. It is thinner than a real bush dragon since all its power comes from its scales, either from motion or the burning of water. But how can I set something so dangerous that it can knock falling rocks out of the air, or engulf the smaller ones outside, out of my control?
The tingle of code shivers all through me and my bees translate Tizzy for me. *Yours, yours. Pft. Spit, stinky code. Owner code.*
*My code. I just need to finish building it. I need to make it safe to put out to defend us.*
*Bad code. Bad dragon code. Put stinky dog code. Not sly, fly ferret. Put Hive in. Hive is you. You and big man and other big man and my boy all Hive. Buzz buzz buzz. Sting not stink.*
I sit down, staring at Tizzy. Ferreting out bad code is her function. One of her functions. But that is a brilliant idea. I've been thinking of this thing as different from my little sisters. But what one bee knows... all the others know as well, in code. I could be connected to all of my firedrakes if I just considered them as very very large and oddly shaped bees. That would mean that only Pa and Stepapa and I and Ky would be able to control them. For the hive. I started scrubbing Tizzy's fur soft again, absently, just thinking about this.
This drake... these drakes... might be our flying things. If I can figure out how to fix a person to them without burning them to a cinder. But they could carry our message, even if we cannot get a person up to the moon or past.
The drake swings its head back and forth, lying in its sling. It is running on its own motion and mine, not the flames. It ripples its scales down its body and the dark grey-green flickers through dark blue and purple, almost black iridescence. Very obviously different from the bright green breeding rainbow colours of a living bush dragon.
I feel better about it being a bee. A drone. I was worried about how alive I would have to make it. I wasn't comfortable building a creature that was designed to immolate itself, that knew it.
In other words, it is the August Civic Holiday, thus there will be no post tonight.
I am working on 'Rin's Dream', which I should post soon and went to the local Petroglyph Provincial Park today and stopped at the Peterborough lift lock. The basins move up and down 19.5 metres. Only one of eight lift locks in the world.
Girl girl Hara girl! I hunt, I seek. Boy and Wing Boy and my big man and his man. Fake boy and Sneaky man. I flyer than dragon and girl girl has bees and bees and me and women hive and nasty stupid stinky dogs. I smarter than dog. I smart. I hunt. I find. Programs. Code code code. Access and kill code, kill killer code.
Prime nasty tasty spit spit. Run and find Girl girl. Bees make big big down down big hole. Tizzy door made I. Tizrav door I make. Slide slide smooth wiggled bounce. Bounce down bounce down bounce down stairs and rocks and wall and stairs and big room.
I sniff. Girl girl smell. Girl girl smell good. Ooooh big big room bigger. Dragon smell. Bush bush! DRAGON! I scream. I save Girl girl... SNAKE. Snake code snake I dance I fly I kill. War song I kill you!
“Oh Tizzy,” Girl girl calls. “No, no. It's all right.” Big Big Dragon snake hang lashing... burning... stink stink... roar... stink. Burny burny water hiss bright bright hot.
I kill! I big. I Tiz Tiz Tizrav! I run, I roll I dance I bounce. Warsong. I save. Tizzy Tizzy TIZRAV! I big I jump!
Dragon goes GRAB! All three split mouth catch and hold hold hold inside MOUTH sticky sticky sticky I bite tongue bite tongue! No teeth no teeth, no scale teeth. It roars big and stinking and I bite bite bite.It spits and I sticky sticky roll roll roll on stone jump again for eyes, for throat. I caught in tips of mouth hanging like cub, like pup. I squeal! I kill! I wiggle! Dragon code. Bad dragon! Bad code! Bad code!
Girl girl reaches and Dragon holds me down to her. I head down, tail down hang hang hang. “Silly Tizrav. Drake, release my ferret,” she say. I chitter. I mad. I valiant. I brave!
Girl girl dries fur and pets. Girl girl pets. I put self nose nose nose under veil and hair. Hide hide hide. “Brave, brave Tizzy to try and save me from my firedrake.”
I brave. I put nose out under veil and hiss at burny fire dragon code coiled on stone next to big tall desk. Bad dragon code. Bad code. I sticky. Bad code.