Topic Actions

Topic Search

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 3 guests

STICKY: A Beautiful Friendship Snippets

This is the place where we will be posting snippets of soon-to-be published works!
Re: STICKY: A Beautiful Friendship Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Tue Sep 13, 2011 8:59 pm

DrakBibliophile
Admiral

Posts: 2125
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:54 pm
Location: East Central Illinois

A Beautiful Friendship -- Snippet 10

If pressed, Stephanie would have conceded that her parents might have quibbled with that last conclusion, so it was probably just as well that they didn't know.

She giggled at the thought and took another bite of fruit bar. The odds were against anything coming along to take advantage of the opportunity she'd provided, and she knew it. But it wasn't as if she had a lot of other things to do just now, and she smiled as the first spatters of rain began to tapdance on the gazebo's roof.

* * *

Climbs Quickly paused, head and shoulders rising as he stood high on his true-feet like -- had he known -- an Old Terran prairie dog to peer into the night. This was the closest he'd ever come to his two-legs' living place, and his eyes glowed as he realized he'd been right. He had been tasting a mind-glow from them, and he stood motionless in the darkness as he savored the texture.

It was unlike anything he'd ever tasted from another of the People . . . and yet it wasn't unlike. It was . . . was . . .

He sat down, curling his tail about his toes, and rubbed one ear with a true-hand while he tried to put a label on it. It was like the People, he decided after long, hard moments of thought, but without words. It was only the emotions, the feelings of the two-legs without the shaping that turned those into communication, and there was a strange drowsiness to it, as if it were half-asleep. As if, he thought slowly, the mind-glow rose from minds which had never even considered that anyone else might be able to taste or hear them and so had never learned to use it to communicate. Yet even as he thought that, it seemed impossible, for the glow was too strong, too powerful. Unformed, un-shaped, it blazed like some marvelous flower, brighter and taller than any of the People had ever produced in Climbs Quickly's presence, and he shivered as he wondered what it would have been like if the two-legs hadn't been mind-blind. He felt the brightness calling to him, tempting him closer like a memory singer's song, and he shook himself. This would be a very important part of his next report to Sings Truly and Short Tail, but he certainly had no business exploring it on his own before he reported it. Besides, it wasn't what he'd come for.

He shook himself again, stepping back from the mind-glow, but it was hard to distance himself from it. In fact, he had to make a deliberate, conscious decision not to taste it and then close his mind to it, and that took much longer to manage than he'd expected.

Yet he did manage it, eventually, and drew a deep breath of relief as he pulled free. He flipped his ears, twitched his whiskers, and began sliding once more through the darkness as the first raindrops splashed about him.

* * *

The rain came down harder, drumming on the gazebo roof. The air seemed to dance and shiver as incessant lightning split the night and thunder shook its halves, and Stephanie's eyes glowed as wind whipped spray in through the gazebo's open sides to spatter the floor and kiss her eyelashes and chilled cheeks. She felt the storm crackling about her and hugged herself, drinking in its energy.

But then, suddenly, a tiny light began to flash on the camera, and she froze. It couldn't be! But the light was flashing -- it really was! -- and that could only mean --

She tossed away the fruit bar -- her third of the night -- and pressed the button that killed the warning light, then snatched the camera up to peer through the viewfinder.

Visibility was poor through the rain cascading off the gazebo roof. There was too much water in the air for a clear view, even with the camera's light-gathering technology, and the lightning didn't help as much as one might have expected. The camera adjusted to changing light levels more quickly than any human eye, but the contrast between the lightning's split-second, stroboscopic fury and the darkness that followed was too extreme.

Stephanie had more than half expected that, so she wasn't really surprised not to see anything just yet. But what mattered at this particular moment was that something had just climbed through the open louvers. Whatever was stealing celery was inside the greenhouse right this minute, and she had a chance to be the very first person on Sphinx to get actual pictures of it!

She stood for a moment, biting her lip and wishing she had better visibility, then shrugged. If she ended up having to face the music, Mom and Dad wouldn't be a lot madder at her for getting soaked than they'd be over her having snuck out at all, and she needed to get closer to the greenhouse. She took a second to clip the rain shield onto the camera, then dragged her hat down over her ears, drew a deep breath, and splashed down the gazebo steps into the rain-whipped night.

* * *

Climbs Quickly dropped to the soft, bare earth of the plant place's floor. The rich smells of unknown growing things filled his nostrils, and his tail twitched as he absorbed them. The transparent material of the plant place seemed far too thin to resist the rain beating upon it, yet it did, and without a single drop leaking through! The two-legs were truly clever to design a marvel like that, and he sat for a moment luxuriating in the enfolding warmth that was somehow made even warmer and more welcoming by the furious splashing of the icy, lightning-laced rain.

But he hadn't come here to be dry, he reminded himself, and his true-hands untied the carry net wrapped about his middle while he followed his nose and resolutely ignored the background mind-glows of the two-legs.

Ah! There was the cluster stalk scent from Sings Truly's song! His eyes lit, and he swarmed easily up the side of the raised part of the plant place, then paused as he came face-to-face with cluster stalk for the very first time.

The growing heads seemed bigger than the ones from Sings Truly's song, and he wondered if the scout who'd first brought that song to his clan had sampled his first cluster stalk before it was fully grown. Whether that was true or not, each of these plants was two-thirds as long as Climbs Quickly himself, and he was glad he'd brought the carry net. Still, net or not, he would have to be careful not to take too much if he expected to carry it all the way home. He sat for another long moment, considering, then flipped his ears in decision. Two heads, he decided. He could manage that much, and he could always come back for more.

But even as he decided that, he realized he'd used the need to decide to distract him from the marvelous scent of the cluster stalk. It was like nothing he'd ever smelled before, and he felt his mouth water as he drew it deep into his lungs. He hesitated, then reached out and tugged gently on an outer stalk.

It responded with a springy resistance, like the top of a white-root, and he tugged harder. Still it held out, and he tugged still harder, then bleeked in triumph as the stalk came loose in his true-hands. He raised it to his nose, sniffing deeply, then stuck out his tongue.

Magic filled his mouth as he licked delicately. It was like hot, liquid sunlight on a day of frozen ice. Like cold mountain water on a day of scorching heat, or the gentle caress of a new mother, just ruffling her first kitten's delicate fur while her mind-glow promised him welcome and warmth and love. It was --
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
*
Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
*
Top
Re: STICKY: A Beautiful Friendship Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Thu Sep 15, 2011 9:03 pm

DrakBibliophile
Admiral

Posts: 2125
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:54 pm
Location: East Central Illinois

A Beautiful Friendship -- Snippet 11

Climbs Quickly shook his head. It wasn't actually like any of those things, he realized, except that each of them, in its own way, was wonderful and unique. It was just that he didn't have anything else to which he could really compare that first blissful taste, and he nibbled gently at the end of the stalk. It was hard to chew -- People didn't really have the right kind of teeth to eat plants -- but it tasted just as wonderful as that first lick had promised, and he crooned in pleasure as he devoured it.

He finished the entire stalk and reached quickly for another, then made himself stop. Yes, it tasted wonderful, and he wanted more. But he was no ground burrower to gorge himself into insensibility on yellow stalk. He was a scout of Bright Water Clan, and it was his job to carry this home for Short Tail, Bright Claw, even Broken Tooth, and the memory singers to judge it for themselves. Even if they hadn't been the leaders of his clan, they were his friends, and friends shared anything this marvelous with one another.

It was actually easier to get an entire head out of the soft earth in which it grew than it had been to peel off that single stalk, and Climbs Quickly soon had two of them rolled up in his carry net. They made an awkward bundle, but he tied the net as neatly as he could and slung it onto his back, reaching up to hold the hand loops with his mid-limbs hand-feet while he used true-feet and true-hands to climb back down to the floor. Getting to the opening to the outer world would be more difficult with his burden than it had been coming in, but he could manage. He might not be very fast or agile, but not even a death fang would be out on a night like this!

* * *

Stephanie was glad her jacket and trousers were waterproof, and her broad-brimmed rain hat kept her head and face dry. But holding the camera on target required her to raise her hands in front of her, and ice-cold rain had flooded down the drain pipes of her nice, waterproof jacket sleeves. She felt it puddling about her elbows and beginning to probe stealthily towards her shoulders -- just as her forearms were raised, her upper arms were parallel to the ground, providing an all-too-convenient channel for the frigid water -- but all the rain in the world couldn't have convinced her to lower her camera at a moment like this.

She stood no more than ten meters from the greenhouse, recording steadily. Each of her camera's storage chips was good for over ten hours, and she had no intention of missing any of this for the official record. Excitement trembled inside as the minutes passed in the splashing, lightning-slivered darkness. Whatever it was had been inside the greenhouse for nine minutes now. Surely it would be coming back out pretty s--

* * *

Climbs Quickly reached the opening with a profound sense of relief. He'd almost dropped his carry net twice, and he decided to catch his breath before leaping down into the rain with his prize. After all, he had plenty of ti--

* * *

A whisker-fringed muzzle and prick-eared head poked out of the opening, green eyes glittering like emerald mirrors as lightning stuttered, and the universe seemed to stop as their owner found himself staring into the glassy eye of a camera in the hands of an eleven-T-year-old girl. Excitement froze Stephanie's breath even though she'd known this moment was coming, but Climbs Quickly hadn't known. His surprise was total, and he went absolutely motionless in astonishment.

Seconds ticked past, and then he shook himself mentally. Showing himself to a two-leg was the one thing he'd been most firmly instructed not to do, and he cringed inwardly at how Broken Tooth would react to this. He knew he could claim distraction on the basis of the storm and his first experience with cluster stalk, but that wouldn't change his failure into success, and he stared down at the two-leg while his mind began to work once more.

It was the youngling, he realized, for it was smaller than either of its parents. He didn't know what it was pointing at him, but from all reports he would have been dead already if the two-leg had intended to kill him. Yet deciding the thing aimed his way wasn't a weapon didn't tell him what it was. Those thoughts flashed through his brain in a heartbeat, and then, without really thinking about it, he reached out to the two-leg's mind-glow in an effort to judge its intentions.

He was totally unprepared for the consequences.

It was as if he'd looked straight up into the sun expecting to see only the glow of a single torch, and his eyes flared wide and his ears flattened as the intensity of the two-leg's emotions rolled over him. The glow was far brighter than before, and he wondered distantly if that was simply because he was closer and concentrating upon it, or if the cluster stalk he'd sampled might have something to do with it. But it didn't really matter. What mattered was the excitement and eagerness and wonder that blazed so brightly in the two-leg's mind. It was the first time any of the People had ever come face-to-face with a two-leg, and nothing could have prepared Climbs Quickly for the sheer delight with which Stephanie Harrington saw the marvelous, six-limbed creature crouched in the ventilation louver with the woven net of purloined celery slung over its back.

The representatives of two intelligent species -- one of which had never even suspected the other's existence -- stared at one another in the middle of a howling thunderstorm. It was a moment which could not last, yet neither wanted it to end. Triumph and excited discovery flooded through Stephanie like a fountain, and she had no idea that Climbs Quickly felt those emotions even more clearly than he would have felt them from another of his own kind. Nor could she have guessed how very much he wanted to continue feeling them. She knew only that he crouched there, gazing at her for what seemed like forever, before he shook himself and leapt suddenly down and outward.

* * *

Climbs Quickly pulled free of the two-leg's mind-glow. It was hard -- possibly the hardest thing he'd ever done -- yet he had his duty. And so he made himself step back from that wonderful, welcoming furnace. Or, rather, he stepped away from it, for it was too strong, too intense, actually to disconnect from. He could turn his eyes away from the fire, but he could not pretend it did not blaze.

He shook himself, and then he launched outward into the rain and darkness. He was slow and clumsy with the net of cluster stalk on his back, but he knew as surely as he'd ever known anything in his life that this young two-leg meant him no harm. The secret of the People's existence was already revealed, and haste would change nothing, so he sat upright in the rain for a moment, gazing up at the two-leg, who finally lowered the strange thing it had held before its face to look down at him with its own eyes. He met those odd, brown, round-pupiled eyes for a moment, then flipped his ears, turned, and scampered off.

* * *

Stephanie watched the intruder vanish with a sense of wonder which only grew as the creature disappeared. It was small, she thought -- no more than sixty or seventy centimeters long, though its tail would probably double its body length. An arboreal, her mind went on, considering its tail and the well-developed hands and claws she'd seen as it clung to the lip of the louver. And those hands, she thought slowly, might have had only three fingers each, but they'd also had fully opposable thumbs. She closed her eyes, picturing it once more, seeing the net on its back, and knew she was right.

The celery snatcher might look like a teeny-tiny hexapuma, yet that net was proof the survey crews had missed the most important single facet of Sphinx. But that was all right. In fact, that was just fine. Their omission had abruptly transformed this world from a place of exile to the most marvelous, exciting place Stephanie Harrington could possibly have been, for she'd done something tonight which had happened only eleven other times in the fifteen centuries of mankind's diaspora to the stars.

She'd just made first contact with a tool-using, clearly sentient, alien race.
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
*
Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
*
Top
Re: STICKY: A Beautiful Friendship Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun Sep 18, 2011 9:35 pm

DrakBibliophile
Admiral

Posts: 2125
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:54 pm
Location: East Central Illinois

A Beautiful Friendship -- Snippet 12

5

Climbs Quickly lay on his back outside his nest, belly fur turned to the sun, and did his best to convince the rest of the clan he was asleep. He knew he wasn't fooling anyone who cared to taste his mind-glow, but good manners required them to pretend he was.

Which was just as well, for blissful as it was, the comfort of the drowsy sunlight was far too little to distract him from the monumental changes in his life. Facing his clan leaders and admitting he'd let one of the two-legs actually see him -- and even worse, see him in the very process of raiding their plant place -- had been just as unpleasant as he'd feared it would.

People seldom physically attacked other People. Oh, there were squabbles enough, and occasional serious fights -- usually, though not always, limited to younger scouts or hunters. And there were even rarer situations in which entire clans found themselves feuding with one another, or fighting for control of their ranges. No one was particularly proud of such situations, but the ability to hear one another's thoughts and taste one another's emotions didn't necessarily make other People any easier to live with or fill a clan's range with prey when it was needed. A clan's leaders normally intervened before anything serious could happen within a clan, though, and it was rare indeed for one member of a clan to deliberately attack another unless there was something fundamentally wrong with the attacker.

Climbs Quickly himself could remember one occasion on which High Crag Clan had been forced to drive out one of its scouts, a rogue who had attacked other People. The exile had crossed into Bright Water's range, killing prey not just to live but for the sheer joy of killing, and raided Bright Water's storage places. He'd even attacked and seriously injured a Bright Water scout while attempting to steal a mother's kittens . . . for purposes Climbs Quickly preferred not to consider too deeply. In the end, the clan's scouts and hunters had been forced to hunt him down and kill him, a grim necessity none had welcomed.

So Climbs Quickly hadn't expected any of the Bright Water leaders to actually assault him, and they hadn't. But they had left him feeling as if they'd skinned him and hung his hide up to dry. It wasn't even the things they'd said so much as the way they'd said them.

Climbs Quickly's ears flicked, and he squirmed, trying to catch the sun more fully, as he recalled his time before Bright Water's leaders. Sings Truly had been present as the clan's second singer and the obvious heir to the first singer's position when Song Spinner died or surrendered her authority. But even Sings Truly had been shocked by his clumsiness. She hadn't scolded him the way Broken Tooth or Short Tail had, yet tasting his sister's wordless reproach had been harder for Climbs Quickly to bear than all of Broken Tooth's cutting irony.

He'd tried to explain, as clearly and undefensively as possible, that he'd never meant to let the two-leg see him, and he'd suggested the possibility that somehow the two-leg had known he was there in the plant place even before seeing him, since it hadn't been surprised to see him when he emerged from it. Some things about its reaction had been surprised, but there'd been far more excitement, almost delight. Indeed, he was virtually certain the two-leg's surprise had been from seeing who (and what) he truly was, not because the two-leg hadn't already known that someone was in the plant place.

Unfortunately his suspicion rested on things he'd tasted in two-leg's mind-glow, and although none of the others actually said so, he knew they found it difficult to believe a two-leg's mind-glow could tell one of the People so much. He even knew why they thought that way, for no other scout had ever come close enough to -- or concentrated hard enough upon -- a two-leg to realize how wonderfully, dreadfully powerful that mind-glow truly was.

< I believe that you believe the two-leg had some way of knowing you were there, > Short Tail had told him judiciously, his mind-voice grave, < yet I fail to see how it could have. You saw none of the strange lights or tool things the two-legs have used to detect other scouts, after all. >

< True, > Climbs Quickly had replied as honestly as possible. < Yet the two-legs are very clever. I saw none of the tool things I knew to look for, but does that prove the two-legs have no tool things we have not yet learned of? >

< You hunt for ground runners in the upper branches, little brother, > Broken Tooth had put in sternly. < You allowed the two-leg not simply to see you but to see you raiding its range! I do not doubt you tasted its mind-glow, but neither do I doubt that you tasted within that mind-glow that which was most important for you to taste. >

Much as Broken Tooth's charge had angered Climbs Quickly, he'd been unable to counter it effectively. After all, the feelings of the mind-glow were always easier to misinterpret, even among the People, than thoughts which were formed into deliberate communication. So perhaps it was only reasonable for Broken Tooth, who'd never tasted a two-leg mind-glow, to assume it would be even more difficult to interpret those of a totally different creature. Climbs Quickly knew -- didn't think; knew -- that the two-leg's mind-glow had been so strong, so vibrant, that he literally could not have read its excitement and eagerness wrongly. Yet he could hardly blame the clan's leaders for failing to accept that he'd interpreted those emotions accurately when they themselves had no experience at all with two-leg mind-glows. Nor could he fail to understand why they found it so difficult to accept the possibility that he could possibly have grasped, however imperfectly, what the two-leg was actually thinking.

Everyone knew there were messages within any mind-glow's feelings, yet even the strongest of those messages were only hints, suggestions that were frustratingly difficult to follow even at the best of times. It was as if meanings . . . leaked over into them like stream water trickling through the gaps in a thick, natural dam of fallen leaves. They got through, but without the clarity of deliberately formed thoughts, and it normally took turnings for one person to learn to read those leaks from another person with anything like reliability. As far as Climbs Quickly knew, no one had ever been able to read those scraps of meaning the very first time they met another person. No wonder they found his report so hard to accept!
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
*
Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
*
Top
Re: STICKY: A Beautiful Friendship Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Tue Sep 20, 2011 9:20 pm

DrakBibliophile
Admiral

Posts: 2125
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:54 pm
Location: East Central Illinois

A Beautiful Friendship -- Snippet 13

And so, because they hadn't tasted the mind-glow for themselves and because he couldn't explain how he could have tasted it so strongly, he'd accepted his scolding as meekly as possible. The cluster stalk he'd brought home had muted that scolding to some extent, for it had proved just as marvelous as the songs from other clans had indicated. But not even that had been enough to deflect the one consequence he truly resented.

He had been relieved of his responsibility to watch over his two-legs, and Shadow Hider (who just happened to be a grandson of Broken Tooth) had been assigned to that task in his place. Broken Tooth hadn't said so in so many words, but he obviously believed Shadow Hider would do a better job of following instructions than Climbs Quickly had. Climbs Quickly believed that, too, although he personally thought it had more to do with Shadow Hider's natural lack of imagination and . . . timidity than his obedience to his grandsire.

And, truthfully, Climbs Quickly understood why the clan leaders insisted on such caution, however much he disliked it. The People had only to watch the two-legs cutting down trees with their whining tools that ate through the trunks of net-wood and golden-leaf trees large enough to hold whole clans of the People, or using the machines that gouged out the deep holes in which they planted their living places, to recognize the potential danger the two-legs represented. They need not decide to kill the People -- or destroy a clan's entire range -- to accomplish the same end by accident, and so the People had decided long ago, even before Climbs Quickly's birth, their only true safety lay in avoiding them entirely. The clans must stay undetected, observing without being observed, until they decided how best to respond to the strange creatures who so confidently and competently reshaped the world.

Unfortunately, Climbs Quickly had come to doubt the wisdom of that policy. Certainly caution was necessary, yet it seemed to him that many People -- such as Broken Tooth and those like him in the other clans -- had become too aware of the potential danger and too unaware of the possible advantages the two-legs represented. Perhaps without even realizing it, they had decided deep down inside that the time for the two-legs to learn of the People's existence would never come, for only thus could the People be safe.

But though Climbs Quickly had too much respect for his clan's leaders to say so, the hope that the two-legs would never discover the People was foolishness. There were more two-legs at every turning now, and their flying things and long-seeing things (and whatever the young two-leg had used to detect his own presence) were too clever for the People to hide forever. Even without his own encounter with the two-leg, the People would have been found sooner or later. And when that happened -- or perhaps more accurately, now that it had happened -- the People would have no choice but to decide how they would interact with the two-legs . . . assuming that the two-legs allowed the People to make that decision.

All that was perfectly clear to Climbs Quickly and he suspected it was equally clear to Sings Truly, Short Tail, and Bright Claw, the clan's senior hunter. But Broken Tooth, Song Spinner, and Digger, who oversaw the clan's plant places, rejected that conclusion. They saw how vast the world was, how many hiding places it offered, and believed they could avoid the two-legs forever, even now that the two-legs knew the People existed.

He sighed again, and then his whiskers twitched with wry amusement as he wondered if the young two-leg was having as many difficulties as he was getting its elders to accept its judgment. If so, should Climbs Quickly be grateful or unhappy? He knew from its mind-glow that the youngling had felt only wonder and delight, not anger or fear, when it saw him. Surely if its elders shared its feelings, the People had nothing to fear. Yet the fact that one two-leg -- and one perhaps little removed from kittenhood -- felt that way might very well mean no more to the rest of the two-legs than his feelings meant to Broken Tooth.

Climbs Quickly lay basking in the sunlight, considering all that had happened -- and all that still threatened to happen -- and understood the fear which motivated Broken Tooth and his supporters. Indeed, a part of him shared their fear. But another part knew events had already been set in motion. The two-legs knew of the People's existence now. They would react to that, whatever the People did or didn't do, and all Broken Tooth's scolding could never prevent it.

Yet there was one thing Climbs Quickly hadn't reported. Something he had yet to come to grips with himself, and something he feared might actually panic Bright Water's leaders into abandoning their range and fleeing deep into the mountains. Perhaps that flight would even be the path of wisdom, he admitted. But it might also cast away a treasure such as the People had never before encountered. It was scarcely the place of a single scout to make choices affecting his entire clan, yet no one else could make this decision, for he alone knew that somehow, in a way he couldn't begin to understand, he and the young two-leg now shared something.

He wasn't certain what that "something" was, but even now, with his eyes closed and the two-legs' clearing far away, he knew exactly where the youngling was. He could feel its mind-glow, like a far off fire or sunlight shining red through his closed eyelids. It was too distant for him to taste its emotions, yet he knew it wasn't his imagination. He truly did know the direction to the two-leg, even more clearly than the direction to Sings Truly, who was no more than twenty or thirty People-lengths away at this very moment.

Climbs Quickly had no idea at all what that might mean, or where it might lead. But two things he did know. His connection, if such it was, to be young two-leg might -- must -- hold the key, for better or for worse, to whatever relationship People and two-legs might come to share. And until he decided what that connection meant in his own case, he dared not even suggest its existence to those who felt as Broken Tooth did.
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
*
Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
*
Top
Re: STICKY: A Beautiful Friendship Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Thu Sep 22, 2011 9:04 pm

DrakBibliophile
Admiral

Posts: 2125
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:54 pm
Location: East Central Illinois

A Beautiful Friendship -- Snippet 14

6

Stephanie leaned back in the comfortable chair, folded her hands behind her head, and propped her sock feet on her desk in the posture which always drew a scold from her mother. Her lips were pursed in the silent, tuneless whistle that was an all but inevitable complement to the vague dreaminess of her eyes . . . and which would, had she let her parents see it, instantly have alerted them to the fact that their darling daughter was Up To Something.

The problem was that for the first time in a very long time, and despite a full T-month spent thinking about it from every angle she could come up with, she had only the haziest idea of precisely what she was up to. Or, rather, of how to pursue her objective. Uncertainty was an unusual feeling for someone who normally got into trouble by being too positive about things, yet there was something rather appealing about it, too. Perhaps because of its novelty.

She frowned, closed her eyes, tipped her chair further back, and thought harder.

She'd managed to evade detection on her way to bed the night of the thunderstorm. Oddly -- though it hadn't occurred to her that it was odd until much later -- she hadn't even considered rushing to her parents with the camera. Even now she still didn't know why she hadn't. Perhaps it was because the knowledge that humanity shared Sphinx with another sentient species was her discovery, and she felt strangely disinclined to share it. Until she did, it was not only her discovery but her secret, and she'd been almost surprised to realize she was determined to learn all she possibly could about her unexpected neighbors before she let anyone else know they existed.

She wasn't certain when she'd decided that, but once she had, it had been easy to find logical reasons for her decision. For one thing, the mere thought of how some of the kids in Twin Forks would react was enough to make her shudder. Even the ones with two brain cells to rub together (and she could count the ones who had even that many brain cells on the fingers of one hand, she thought sourly) would have been an outright threat to her little celery thief. Given their determination to catch everything from chipmunks to near-turtles as pets, they'd be almost certain to pursue these new creatures with even greater enthusiasm . . . and catastrophic results.

She felt rather virtuous once she got that far, but it didn't come close to solving her main problem. If she didn't tell anybody, how did she go about learning more about them on her own? She might have been the first to come up with an answer to the mystery, but eventually someone else was going to catch another celery thief in the act. When that happened her secret would be out, and she was determined to learn everything she possibly could about them before that happened.

And, she thought, at least I'm starting with a clean slate!

Over the last several T-weeks, she'd accessed the planetary data net without finding a single word about miniature hexapumas with hands. She'd even used her father's link to the Forestry Service to compare her camera imagery to known Sphinxian species, only to draw a total blank. Whatever the celery snatcher was, no one else had ever gotten pictures of one of his -- or had it been her? -- relatives or even uploaded a verbal description of them to the planetary database.

And that's as much evidence of their intelligence as that woven net of his, she thought. I know a planet's a big place, but from the pattern of the raids, they've got to be at least as widely distributed as our settlements and freeholds. And if they are, then the only way people could've missed spotting at least one of them for over fifty T-years, even with the Plague, would be for them to deliberately avoid humans. And that's a reasoned response. It means they had to actually plan to hide from us, and that kind of coordinated planning means they have to be able to talk to each other, and that means they must have a common language and some way to communicate over distances at least as widespread as we are!

So they were not only tool-users, but language-users, and their small size made that even more remarkable. The one Stephanie had seen couldn't have had a body length of more than sixty centimeters or weighed more than thirteen or fourteen kilos, and no one had ever before encountered a sentient species with a body mass that low.

Stephanie got that far without much difficulty. Unfortunately, that was as far as she could get without more data, and for the first time she could recall, she didn't know how to get any more. That was a novel experience for someone who routinely approached most problems with complete confidence, but this time, she was stumped. She'd exhausted the available research possibilities, so if she wanted more information she had to get it for herself. That implied some sort of field research, but how did someone who'd just turned twelve T-years old -- and one who'd promised her parents she wouldn't tramp around the woods alone -- investigate a totally unknown species without even telling anyone it existed?

In a way, she was actually glad her mother had found herself too tied down by current projects to go for those nature hikes she'd promised to try to make time for. Stephanie had been grateful when her mother made the offer, but now her mother's presence would have posed a serious obstacle for any attempt to pursue her private research in secret.

It was perhaps unfortunate, however, that her father -- in an effort to make up for her "disappointment" over her mother's schedule -- had decided to distract her with the surprise gift of a brand-new hang glider for her twelfth birthday. She'd been touched by the thoughtfulness of the present, and even more by the way he'd rearranged his work schedule to free up time to resume the hang-gliding lessons their departure from Meyerdahl had interrupted. It wasn't that she didn't enjoy the lessons, either. In fact, Stephanie loved the exhilaration of flight, and no one could have been a better teacher than Richard Harrington. He'd made it into the continental hang-gliding finals on Meyerdahl three times, and she knew no one in the galaxy could have taught her more.

The problem is that every minute I spend on flight lessons is another minute I can't spend doing what I really want to do . . . assuming I can figure out how to do it in the first place. And if I don't spend time on the lessons Mom and Dad are for sure going to figure out I've got something else on my mind!

Worse, Dad insisted on flying in to Twin Forks for her lessons. That made sense, since unlike her mom he had to be "on-call" twenty-five hours a day and Twin Forks was the central hub for all the local freeholds. He could reach any of them quickly from town, and teaching the lessons there let him enlist the two or three other parents with gliding experience as assistant teachers. It let him offer the lessons to all the settlement's other kids, as well, which was one of the drawbacks in Stephanie's opinion, but exactly the sort of generosity she would have expected of him. But it also meant her lessons were not only eating up an enormous amount of her free time but taking her over eighty kilometers away from the place where she was more eager than ever to begin the explorations she'd promised her parents she wouldn't undertake.

She hadn't found a way around her problems yet, but she was determined that she would find one . . . and without breaking her promise, however much that added to her difficulties. But at least it hadn't been hard to give the species a name. It looked like an enormously smaller version of a "hexapuma," and like the hexapuma, there was something very (or perhaps inevitably) feline about it. Of course, Stephanie knew "feline" actually referred only to a very specific branch of Old Terran evolution. But it had become customary over the centuries to apply Old Terran names to alien species -- like the Sphinxian "chipmunks" or "near-pine." Most claimed the practice originated from a sort of racial homesickness and a desire for familiarity in alien environments. Personally, Stephanie thought it was more likely to stem from laziness, since it let people avoid thinking up new labels for everything they encountered. Despite all that, however, she'd discovered that "treecat" was the only possible choice when she started considering names. She hoped the taxonomists would let it stand when she finally had to go public with their discovery. Usually the discoverer of the species did get to assign its common name, after all, though she suspected rather glumly that her age would work against her in that regard. Grown-ups could be so zorky sometimes.

And if she hadn't figured out how to go about investigating the treecats without breaking her promise -- which was out of the question, however eager she might be to proceed -- at least she knew the direction in which to start looking. She had no idea how she knew, but she was absolutely convinced that she would know exactly where to go when the time came.

She closed her eyes, took one arm from behind her head, and pointed, then opened her eyes to see where her index finger was aimed. The direction had changed slightly since the last time she'd checked, and yet she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that she was pointing directly at the treecat who'd raided her mother's greenhouse.

And that, she reflected, was the oddest -- and most exciting -- part of the whole thing.
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
*
Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
*
Top
Re: STICKY: A Beautiful Friendship Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun Sep 25, 2011 8:58 pm

DrakBibliophile
Admiral

Posts: 2125
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:54 pm
Location: East Central Illinois

A Beautiful Friendship -- Snippet 15

7

Marjorie Harrington finished writing up her latest microbe-resistant strain of squash, closed the file, and sat back with a sigh. Some of Sphinx's farmers had argued that it would be much simpler (and quicker) just to come up with something to swat the microbe in question. That always seemed to occur to the people who faced such problems, and sometimes, Marjorie admitted, it was not only the simplest but also the most cost-effective and ecologically sound answer. But in this case she and the planetary administration had resisted firmly, and her final solution -- which, she admitted, had taken longer than a more aggressive approach might have -- had been to select the least intrusive of three possible genetic modifications to the plant rather than going after the microbe.

She knew even some of her colleagues back on Meyerdahl would have backed the "fast and aggressive" approach, but Marjorie had always regarded that as a last resort. Besides, her distaste for such methods lent a certain elegance to her work. There was something almost poetic about it, like the way she'd grafted the genetic resistance of native Sphinxian plants into terrestrial celery to defeat the blight which had threatened to destroy the plant. This one hadn't been quite as subtle as that one, but it still left her with a sense of profound satisfaction, very like the satisfaction she felt standing back from her easel to survey a finished landscape painting.

She smiled at the thought, looking remarkably like her daughter for a moment. Then her smile faded as she turned her mind from squash to other matters. Her workload had grown much heavier over the past weeks as Sphinx's southern hemisphere moved steadily towards planting time, and the press of priority assignments had kept her from finding the time for long hikes with Stephanie. She knew that, but she also knew she hadn't even been able to free up the time to help her daughter explore possible answers to the celery pilferage which had finally reached the Harrington freehold.

At least she'd responded enthusiastically to Richard's resumption of her hang-gliding lessons. In fact, she'd started spending hours in the air, checking in periodically over her uni-link -- and despite the vocal worry of some of the Twin Forks parents whose kids were also learning to glide, Marjorie wasn't especially worried by the risks involved in her daughter's hobby. A certain number of bumps, scrapes, contusions, bruises, or even broken bones were among the inevitable rites of childhood, and while Marjorie Harrington didn't want her child running stupid risks, neither did she want Stephanie to grow up into an adult who was afraid to take risks.

Which, judging by Stephanie's personality at "twelve-but-I'll-be-thirteen-in-only-eight-months" wasn't very likely to happen, she reflected wryly.

Yet if Marjorie had no qualms over Stephanie's new interest, she was still unhappily certain Stephanie had embraced it mainly as a diversion from other disappointments, and she rubbed her nose pensively. She had no doubt Stephanie understood how important her own work was, but the situation was still grossly unfair to her, and although Stephanie seldom sulked or whined, Marjorie had expected to hear quite a bit of carefully reasoned commentary on the subject of fairness. And the fact that Stephanie hadn't complained at all only sharpened Marjorie's sense of guilt. It was as if Stephanie --

The hand rubbing Dr. Harrington's nose suddenly stopped moving as a fresh thought struck her, and she frowned, wondering why it hadn't occurred to her before. It wasn't as if she didn't know her daughter, after all, and this sort of sweet acceptance was very unlike Stephanie. No, she didn't sulk or whine, but neither did she give up without a fight on something to which she'd truly set her mind. And, Marjorie thought, while Stephanie had enjoyed hang gliding back on Meyerdahl, it had never been the passion it seemed to have become here. It was possible she'd simply discovered she'd underestimated its enjoyment quotient on Meyerdahl, but Marjorie's abruptly roused instincts said something else entirely.

She ran her mind back over her more recent conversations with her daughter, and her suspicion grew. Not only had Stephanie not complained about the unfairness of her grounding, but it was over two weeks since she'd even referred to the mysterious celery thefts, and Marjorie scolded herself harder for falling into the error of complacency. All the signs were there, and she should have realized that the only thing which could produce such a tractable Stephanie was a Stephanie who was Up To Something and didn't want her parents to notice.

But what could she be up to? And why didn't she want them to notice? The only thing she'd been forbidden was the freedom to go wilderness hiking on her own, and however devious she might sometimes be, Stephanie would never break a promise. Yet if she was using her sudden interest in hang gliding as a cover for something else, whatever she was up to must be something she calculated would arouse parental resistance. Which, unlike her promise to avoid woodland hikes, wouldn't stop her for a moment until they got around to catching her at it. Her daughter, Marjorie thought with affection-laced exasperation, was entirely too prone to figure that anything which hadn't been specifically forbidden was legal . . . whether or not the opportunity to forbid it had ever been offered.

On the other hand, Stephanie wasn't the sort to prevaricate in the face of specific questions. If Marjorie sat her down and asked her, she'd open up about whatever she was up to. She might not want to, but she'd do it, and Marjorie made a firm mental note to set aside enough time to explore the no doubt boundless possibilities.

Thoroughly.
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
*
Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
*
Top
Re: STICKY: A Beautiful Friendship Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Tue Sep 27, 2011 9:02 pm

DrakBibliophile
Admiral

Posts: 2125
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:54 pm
Location: East Central Illinois

A Beautiful Friendship -- Snippet 16

8

Stephanie whooped in sheer exuberance as she rode the powerful updraft. Wind whipped through her birthday glider's struts, drummed on its fabric covering, and whistled around her helmet, and she leaned to one side, banking as she sliced still higher. The counter-grav unit on her back could have taken her higher yet -- and done it more quickly -- but it wouldn't have been anywhere near as much fun as this was!

She watched the treetops below and felt a tiny stir of guilt buried in her delight. She was safely above those trees -- not even the towering crown oaks came anywhere near her present altitude -- but she also knew what her father would have said had he known where she was. The fact that he didn't know, and thus wouldn't say it, wasn't quite enough for her to convince herself her actions weren't just a bit across the line. But she could always say -- truthfully -- that she hadn't broken her word. She wasn't walking around the woods by herself, and no hexapuma or peak bear could possibly threaten her at an altitude of two or three hundred meters.

For all that, innate honesty forced her to admit that she knew her parents would instantly have countermanded her plans if they'd known of them. For that matter, she'd taken shameless advantage of a failure in communication on their part, and she knew it.

Her father had been forced to cancel today's hang-gliding lesson because of an emergency house call, and he'd commed Mr. Sapristos, the Twin Forks mayor, who usually subbed for him in the gliding classes. Mr. Sapristos had agreed to take over for the day, but Dad hadn't specifically told him Stephanie would be there. The autopilot in Mom's air car could have delivered her under the direction of the planetary air-traffic computers, and he'd apparently assumed that was what would happen. Unfortunately -- or fortunately, depending on one's viewpoint -- his haste had been so great that he hadn't asked Mom to arrange transportation. (Stephanie was guiltily certain he'd expected her to tell her mother. But, she reminded herself, he hadn't actually told her to, had he?)

All of which meant Dad thought she was with Mr. Sapristos, but that Mr. Sapristos and Mom both thought she was with Dad. And that just happened to have given Stephanie a chance to pick her own flight plan without having to explain it to anyone else.

It wasn't the first time the same situation had arisen . . . or that she'd capitalized upon it. But it wasn't the sort of opportunity an enterprising young woman could expect to come along often, either, and she'd jumped at it. She'd had to, for the long Sphinxian days were creeping past, over two T-months had gotten away from her, and none of her previous unauthorized flights had given her big enough time windows. Avoiding parental discovery had always required her to turn back short of the point at which she knew her treecats lurked, and if she didn't find out more about them soon, someone else was bound to.

Of course, she couldn't expect to learn much about them just flying around overhead, but that wasn't really what she was after. If she could only pinpoint a location for them, she was sure she could get Dad to come out here with her -- maybe with some of his friends from the Forestry Service -- to find the physical evidence to support her discovery. And, she thought, her ability to tell them where to look would also be evidence of her strange link with the celery thief. Somehow she figured she'd need a lot of evidence of that before she got anyone else to believe it existed.

She closed her eyes, consulting her inner compass once more, and smiled. It was holding steady, which meant she was headed in the right direction, and she opened her eyes once more.

She banked again, very slightly, adjusting her course to precisely the right heading, and her face glowed with excitement. She was on track at last. She knew she was, just as she knew that this time she had enough flight time to reach her goal before anyone missed her, and she was quite correct.

Unfortunately, she'd also made one small mistake.

* * *

Climbs Quickly paused, one true-hand stopped in mid-reach for the branch above, and his ears flattened. He'd become accustomed to his ability to sense the direction to the two-leg youngling, even if he still hadn't mentioned it to anyone else. He'd even become used to the way the youngling sometimes seemed to move with extraordinary speed -- no doubt in one of the two-legs' flying things -- but this was different. The youngling was moving quickly, though far more slowly than it sometimes had. But it was also headed directly towards Climbs Quickly. In fact, it was already far closer than it had ever come since he'd been relieved of his spying duties -- and he felt a sudden chill.

There was no question. He recognized exactly what the youngling was doing, for he'd done much the same thing often enough in the past. True, he usually pursued his prey by scent, but now he understood how a ground runner must have felt when it realized he was on its trail, for the two-leg was using the link between them in exactly the same way. It was tracking him, and if it found him, it would also find Bright Water Clan's central nesting place. For good or ill, its ability to seek out Climbs Quickly would result in the discovery of his entire clan!

He stood for one more moment, heart racing, ears flat with mingled excitement and fear, then decided. He abandoned his original task and bounded off along the outstretched net-wood limb, racing to meet the approaching two-leg well away from the rest of his clan.

* * *

Stephanie's attention was locked on the trees below her now. Her flight had lasted over two hours, but she was drawing close at last. She could feel the distance melting away -- indeed, it almost seemed the treecat was coming to meet her -- and excitement narrowed the focus of her attention even further. The crown oak had thinned as she'd left the foothills behind and begun climbing into the Copperwalls proper. Now the woods were a mix of various evergreens, dominated by shorter species of near-pine and the dark, blue-green pyramids of Sphinxian red spruce, and the crazy quilt geometry of picketwood.

Of course they were, she thought, and her eyes brightened. The rough-barked picketwood would be the perfect habitat for someone like her little celery thief! Each picketwood system radiated from a single central trunk which sent out long, straight, horizontal branches at a height of between three and ten meters. Above that, branches might take on any shape; below it, they always grew in groups of four, radiating at near-perfect right angles from one another for a distance of ten to fifteen meters. At that point, each sent a vertical runner down to the earth below to establish its own root system and, in time, become its own nodal trunk. A single picketwood "tree" could extend itself for literally hundreds of kilometers in any direction, and it wasn't uncommon for one "tree" to run into another and fuse with it. When the lateral branches of two systems crossed, they merged into a node which put down its own runner.
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
*
Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
*
Top
Re: STICKY: A Beautiful Friendship Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Thu Sep 29, 2011 9:08 pm

DrakBibliophile
Admiral

Posts: 2125
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:54 pm
Location: East Central Illinois

A Beautiful Friendship -- Snippet 17

Stephanie's mother was fascinated by the picketwoods. Plants which spread by sending out runners weren't all that rare, but those which spread only via runner were. It was also more than a little uncommon for the runner to spread out through the air and go down to the earth, rather than the reverse. But what truly fascinated Dr. Harrington was the tree's anti-disease defense mechanism. The unending network of branches and trunks should have made a picketwood system lethally vulnerable to diseases and parasites. But the plant had demonstrated a sort of natural quarantine process. Somehow -- and Dr. Harrington had yet to discover how -- a picketwood system was able to sever its links to afflicted portions of itself. Attacked by disease or parasites, the system secreted powerful cellulose-dissolving enzymes that ate away at connecting cross-branches and literally disconnected them at intervening nodal trunks, and Dr. Harrington was determined to locate the mechanism which made that possible.

But her mother's interest in picketwood meant very little to Stephanie at the moment beside her realization of the same tree's importance to treecats. Picketwood was deciduous and stopped well short of the tree line, abandoning the higher altitudes to near-pine and red spruce. But it crossed mountains readily through valleys or at lower elevations, and it could be found in almost every climate zone. All of which meant it would provide treecats with the equivalent of aerial highways that could literally run clear across a continent! They could travel for hundreds -- thousands! -- of kilometers without ever having to touch the ground where larger predators like hexapumas could get at them!

She laughed aloud at her deduction, but then her glider slipped abruptly sideways, and her laughter died as she stopped thinking about the sorts of trees beneath her and recognized instead the speed at which she was passing over them. She raised her head and looked around quickly, and a fist of the ice seemed to squeeze her stomach.

The clear blue skies under which she had begun her flight still stretched away in front of her to the east. But the western sky behind her was no longer clear. A deadly looking line of thunderheads marched steadily east, white and fluffy on top but an ominous purple-black below, and even as she looked over her shoulder, she saw lightning flicker.

She should have seen it coming sooner, she thought numbly, hands aching as she squeezed the glider's grips in ivory-knuckled fists.

Idiot! she told herself sickly. You should've checked the weather reports! You know you should have! Dad's pounded that into you every single time the two of you plan a flight!

Yes, he had . . . and that, she realized sickly, was the point. She was used to having other people -- adult people -- check the weather before they went gliding, and she'd let herself get so excited, focus so intently on what she was doing, pay so little attention --

A harder fist of wind punched at her glider, staggering it in midair, and fear became terror. The following wind had been growing stronger for quite some time, a small logical part of her realized. No doubt she would have noticed despite her concentration if she hadn't been gliding in the same direction, riding in the wind rather than across or against it, where the velocity shift would have to have registered. But the thunderheads were catching up with her quickly, and the outriders of their squall line lashed through the air space in front of them.

Daddy! She had to com her father -- tell him where she was -- tell him to come get her -- tell him --!

But there was no time. She'd messed up, and all the theoretical discussions about what to do in bad weather, all the stern warnings to avoid rough air, came crashing in on her. But they were no longer theoretical; she was in deadly danger, and she knew it. Counter-grav unit or no, a storm like the one racing up behind her could blot her out of the air as casually as she might have swatted a fly, and with just as deadly a result. She could die in the next few minutes, and the thought terrified her, but she didn't panic.

Yes, you have to com Mom and Dad, but it's not like you don't already know exactly what they'd tell you to do if you did. You've got to get out of the air, get yourself down on the ground, now! And the last thing you need, she thought sickly, staring down at the solid green canopy below her, is to be trying to explain to them where you are while you do it!

She banked again, shivering with fear, eyes desperately seeking some opening, however small, and the air trembled as thunder rumbled behind her.

* * *

Climbs Quickly reared up on true-feet and hand-feet, lips wrinkling back from needle-sharp white fangs as a flood of terror crashed over him. It pounded deep into him, waking the ancient fight-or-flight instinct which, had he but known it, his kind shared with humanity. But it wasn't his terror at all.

It took him an instant to realize that, yet it was true. It wasn't his fear; it was the two-leg youngling's, and even as the youngling's fear ripped at him, he felt a fresh surge of wonder. He was still too far from the two-leg. He could never have felt another of the People's mind-glow at this distance, and he knew it. But this two-leg's mind-glow raged through him like a forest fire, screaming for his aid without even realizing it could do so, and it struck him like a lash. He shook his head once, and then flashed down the line of netwood like a cream-and-gray blur while his fluffy tail streamed straight out behind him.

* * *

Desperation filled Stephanie.

The thunderstorm was almost upon her -- the first white pellets of hail rattled off her taut glider covering -- and without the counter-grav she would already have been blotted from the sky. But not even the counter-grav unit could save her from the mounting turbulence much longer, and --

Her thoughts chopped off as salvation loomed suddenly before her. The black, irregular scar of an old forest fire had ripped a huge hole through the trees, and she choked back a sob of gratitude as she spied it. The ground looked dangerously rough for a landing in conditions like this, but it was infinitely more inviting than the solid web of branches tossing and flashing below her, and she banked towards it.

She almost made it.

* * *

Climbs Quickly ran as he'd never run before. Somehow he knew he raced against death itself, though it never occurred to him to wonder what someone his size could do for someone the size of even a two-leg youngling. It didn't matter. All that mattered was the terror, the fear -- the danger -- which confronted that other presence in his mind, and he ran madly towards it.

* * *

It was the strength of the wind which did it.

Even then, she would have made it without the sudden downdraft that hammered her at the last instant. But between them, they were too much. Stephanie saw it coming in the moment before she struck, realized instantly what was going to happen, but there was no time to avoid it. No time even to feel the full impact of the realization before her glider crashed into the crown of the towering near pine at over fifty kilometers per hour.
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
*
Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
*
Top
Re: STICKY: A Beautiful Friendship Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun Oct 02, 2011 9:29 pm

DrakBibliophile
Admiral

Posts: 2125
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:54 pm
Location: East Central Illinois

A Beautiful Friendship -- Snippet 18

9

Climbs Quickly slithered to a stop, momentarily frozen in horror. But then he gasped in relief.

The sudden silence in his mind wasn't -- quite -- absolute. His instant fear that the youngling had been killed eased, yet something deeper and darker, without the same bright panic but with even greater power, replaced it. Whatever had happened, the youngling was now unconscious, yet even in its unconsciousness he was still linked to it . . . and he felt its pain. It was injured, possibly badly -- possibly badly enough that his initial fear that it had died would prove justified after all. And if it was injured, what could he do to help? Young as it was, it was far larger than he; much too large for him to drag to safety.

But what one of the People couldn't do, many of them often could, and he closed his eyes, lashing his tail while he thought. He'd run too far to feel the combined mind-glow of his clan's central nest place. His emotions couldn't reach so far, but his mind-voice could. If he cried out for help, Sings Truly would hear, and if she failed to, surely some hunter or scout between her and Climbs Quickly would hear and relay. Yet what message could he cry out with? How could he summon the clan to aid a two-leg -- the very two-leg he had allowed to see him? How could he expect them to abandon their policy of hiding from the two-legs? And even if he could have expected that of them, what right had he to demand it?

He stood irresolute, tail flicking, ears flattened, as the branch behind him creaked and swayed and the first raindrops lashed the budding leaves. Rain, he thought, a flicker of humor leaking even through his dread and uncertainty. Was it always going to be raining when he and his two-leg met?

Strangely, that thought broke his paralysis, and he shook himself. All he knew so far was that the two-leg was hurt and that he was very close to it now. He had no way of knowing how bad its injuries might actually be, nor even if there were any reason to consider calling out for help. After all, if there was nothing the clan could do, then there was no point in trying to convince it to come. No, the thing to do was to continue until he found the youngling. He had to see what its condition was before he could determine the best way to help -- assuming it required his help at all -- and he scurried onward almost as quickly as before.

* * *

Stephanie recovered consciousness slowly. The world swayed and jerked all about her, thunder rumbled and crashed, rain lashed her like an icy flail, and she'd never hurt so much in her entire life.

The pounding rain's chill wetness helped rouse her, and she tried to move -- only to whimper as the pain in her left arm stabbed suddenly higher. She'd lost her helmet somehow. That wasn't supposed to happen, but it had. She felt a painful welt rising under her jaw where the helmet strap had lain, and her hair was already soaking wet. Nor was that all she had to worry about, and she blinked, rubbing her eyes with her right palm, and felt a sort of dull shock as she realized part of what had been blinding her was blood, not simply rainwater.

She wiped again and felt a shiver of relief as she realized there was much less blood than she'd thought. Most of it seemed to be coming from a single cut on her forehead, and the cold rain was already slowing the bleeding. She managed to clear her eyes well enough to look about her, and her relief vanished.

Her brand new glider was smashed. Not broken: smashed. Its tough composite covering and struts had been specially designed to be crash survivable, but it had never been intended for the abuse to which she'd subjected it, and it had crumpled into a mangled lacework of fabric and shattered framing. Yet it hadn't quite failed completely, and she hung in her harness from the main spar, which was jammed in the fork of a branch above her. The throbbing ache where the harness straps crossed her body told her she'd been badly bruised by the abrupt termination of her flight, and one of her ribs stabbed her with a white burst of agony every time she breathed. But without the harness -- and the forked branch which had caught her -- she would have slammed straight into the massive tree trunk directly in front of her, and she shuddered at the thought.

But however lucky she might have been, there'd been bad luck to go with the good. Like most colony world children, Stephanie had been through mandatory first-aid courses . . . not that any training was needed to realize her left arm was broken in at least two places. She knew which way her elbow was supposed to bend, and there was no joint in the middle of her forearm. That was bad enough, but there was worse, for her uni-link had been strapped to her left wrist.

It wasn't there anymore.

She turned her head, craning her neck to peer painfully back along the all too obvious course of her crashing impact with the treetops, and wondered where the uni-link was. The wrist unit was virtually indestructible, and if she could only find it -- and reach it -- she could call for help in an instant. But there was no way she was going to find it in that mess.

It was almost funny, she thought through the haze of her pain. She couldn't find it, but Mom or Dad could have found it with ridiculous ease . . . if they'd only known to use the emergency override code to activate the locator beacon function. Or, for that matter, if she'd thought to activate it when the storm first came up. Unfortunately, she'd been too preoccupied finding a landing spot to bring the beacon up, and even if she had, no one would have found it until they thought to look for it.

And since I can't even find it, I can't com anyone to tell them to start looking for it, she thought fuzzily. I really messed up this time. Mom and Dad are going to be really, really pissed. Bet they ground me till I'm sixteen for this one!

Even as she thought it, she knew it was ridiculous to worry about such things at a time like this. Yet there was a certain perverse comfort -- a sense of familiarity, perhaps -- to it, and she actually managed a damp-sounding chuckle despite the tears of pain and fear trickling down her face.

She let herself hang limp for another moment, but badly as she felt the need to rest, she dared do no such thing. The wind was growing stronger, not weaker, and the branch from which she hung creaked and swayed alarmingly. Then there was the matter of lightning. A tree this tall was all too likely to attract any stray bolt, and she had no desire to share the experience with it. No, she had to get herself down, and she blinked away residual pain tears and fresh rain to peer down at the ground.

For all its height, the near-pine into which she'd crashed wasn't a particularly towering specimen of its species, which could easily run to as much as sixty or even seventy meters, without a single branch for the lower third of its height. It was still a good twelve-meter drop to the ground, though, and she shuddered at the thought. Her gymnastics classes had taught her how to tuck and roll, but that wouldn't help from this height even with two good arms. With her left arm shattered, she'd probably finish herself off permanently if she tried. But the way her supporting branch was beginning to shake told her she had no option but to get down somehow. Even if the branch held, her damaged harness was likely to let go . . . assuming the even more badly damaged spar didn't simply snap first. But how --?

Of course! She reached up and around with her right arm, gritting her teeth as even that movement shifted her left arm ever so slightly and sent fresh stabs of anguish through her. But the pain was worth it, for her fingers confirmed her hope. The counter-grav unit was still there, and she felt the slight, pulsating hum that indicated it was still operating. Of course, she couldn't be certain how long it would go on operating.

Her cautiously exploring hand reported an entire series of deep dents and gouges in its casing. She supposed she should be glad it had protected her back by absorbing the blows which had left those marks, but if the unit had taken a beating anything like what had happened to the rest of her equipment, it probably wouldn't last all that long. On the other hand, it only had to hold out long enough to get her to the ground, and --

Her thoughts chopped off as something touched the back of her head, and she jerked back around, in a shock spasm fast enough to wrench a half-scream of pain from her bruised body and broken arm. It wasn't that the touch hurt in any way, for it was feather-gentle, almost a caress. Only its totally unexpected surprise produced its power, and all the pain she felt was the result of her response to it. Yet even as she bit her pain sound back into a groan, the hurt seemed far away and unimportant as she stared into the treecat's slit-pupiled green eyes from a distance of less than thirty centimeters.
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
*
Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
*
Top
Re: STICKY: A Beautiful Friendship Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Tue Oct 04, 2011 9:01 pm

DrakBibliophile
Admiral

Posts: 2125
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:54 pm
Location: East Central Illinois

This book should be available now, so this is the last snippet.

A Beautiful Friendship -- Snippet 19

* * *

Climbs Quickly winced as the two-leg's peaking hurt clawed at him, yet he was vastly relieved to find it awake and aware. He smelled the bright, sharp scent of blood, and the two-leg's arm was clearly broken. He had no idea how it had managed to get itself into such a predicament, but the bits and pieces strewn around and hanging from its harness straps were obviously the ruin of some sort of flying thing. The fragments didn't look like the other flying things he'd seen, yet such it must have been for the two-leg to wind up stuck in the top of a tree this way.

He wished fervently that it could have found another place to crash. This clearing was a place of bad omen, shunned by all of the People. Once it had been the heart of the Sun Shadow Clan's range, but the remnants of that clan had moved far, far away, trying to forget what had happened to it here, and Climbs Quickly would have much preferred not to come here himself.

But that was beside the point. He was here, and however little he might like this place, he knew the two-leg had to get down. The branch from which it hung was not only thrashing with the wind but trying to split off the tree -- he knew it was, for he'd crossed the weakened spot to reach the two-leg. And that didn't even consider the way green-needle trees attracted lightning. Yet he could see no way for a two-leg with a broken arm to climb like one of the People, and he was certainly too small to carry it!

Frustration bubbled in the back of his mind as he realized how little he could do, yet it never occurred to him not to try to help. This was one of "his" two-legs, and he knew that it was the link to him which had brought it here. There were far too many things happening for him to begin to understand them all, yet understanding was strangely unimportant. This, he realized with a dawning sense of wonder, wasn't "one" of his two-legs after all; it was his two-leg. Whatever the link between them was, it reached out in both directions. They weren't simply linked; they were bound to one another, and he could no more have abandoned this strange-looking, alien creature than he could have walked away from Sings Truly or Short Tail in time of need.

Yet what could he do? He leaned out from his perch, clinging to the tree's deeply furrowed bark with hand-feet and one true-hand, prehensile tail curled tight around the branch, as he extended the other true-hand to stroke the two-leg's cheek. He crooned to it, and he saw it blink. Then its hand came up -- so much smaller than a full-grown two-leg's, yet so much bigger than his own --and he arched his spine and crooned again -- this time in pleasure -- as the two-leg returned his caress.

* * *

Even in her pain and fear, Stephanie felt a sense of wonder—almost awe—as the treecat reached out to touch her face.

She'd seen the strong, curved claws the creature's other hand had sunk into the near-pine's bark, but the wiry fingers which touched her cheek were moth-wing gentle, claws retracted, and she pressed back against them. Then she reached out her own good hand, touching the rain soaked fur, stroking its spine as she would have stroked an Old Terran cat. The outer layer of that fur, she realized, was an efficient rain shedder. The layers under it were dry and fluffy, and the creature arched with a soft sound of pleasure as her fingers stroked it. She didn't begin to understand what was happening, but she didn't have to. She might not know exactly what the treecat was doing, yet she dimly sensed the way it was soothing her fear -- even her pain -- through that strange link they shared, and she clung to the comfort it offered.

But then it drew back, sitting higher on its four rear limbs. It cocked its head at her for a long moment while wind and rain howled about them, and then it raised one front paw -- no, she reminded herself, one of its hands -- and pointed downward.

That was the only possible way to describe its actions. It pointed downward, and even as it pointed it made a sharp, scolding sound whose meaning was unmistakable.

"I know I need to get down," she told it in a hoarse, pain-shadowed voice. "In fact, I was working on it when you turned up. Just give me a minute, will you?"

* * *

Climbs Quickly's ear shifted as the two-leg made noises at him.

For the first time, thanks to the link between them, he had proof the noises were actually meant to convey meaning, although just what their meaning might be was more than he could have said. While the two-leg's emotions themselves were almost painfully sharp and clear at this short range, the echoes, the hints of meaning, which infused the emotions of any mind-glow were far too strange and unfamiliar for him to sort out any sort of specific meaning. Yet it was obvious the youngling was trying to communicate with him, and he felt a stab of pity for it and its fellows. Was that the only way they knew to communicate with one another? But however crude and imperfect the means might be compared to the manner in which the People spoke, at least he could now prove they did communicate. That should go a long way towards convincing the clan leaders the two-legs truly were People in their own fashion. And at least the noises the hurt youngling was making coupled with the taste of its mind-glow were proof it was still thinking. He felt strange surge of pride in the two-leg, comparing its reaction to how some of the People's youngling's might have reacted in its place, and bleeked at it again, more gently.

* * *

"I know, I know, I know!"

Stephanie sighed and reached back to the counter-grav's controls. She adjusted them carefully, then bit her lower lip as a ragged pulsation marred its smooth vibration.

She gave the rheostat one last, gentle twitch, feeling the pressure of the harness straps ease as her apparent weight was reduced to three or four kilos. But that was as far as it was going. She would have preferred an even lower level -- had the unit been undamaged, she could have reduced her apparent weight all the way to zero or even a negative number, in which case she would actually have had to pull herself down against its lift. But the rheostat was all the way over now. It wouldn't go any further . . . and the ragged pulsation served notice that the unit was likely to pack up any minute, even at its current setting.

Still, she told herself, doggedly trying to find a bright side, maybe it was just as well. Any lighter weight would have been dangerous in such a high wind, and getting her lightweight self smashed against a tree trunk or branch by a sudden gust would hardly do her broken arm any good.

"Well," she said, looking back at the treecat. "Here goes."

* * *

The two-leg looked at him, made another mouth noise, and then -- to Climbs Quickly's horror -- it unlatched its harness with its good hand and let itself fall.

He reared up in protest, ears flattened, yet his horror vanished almost as quickly as it had come, for the youngling didn't actually fall at all. Instead, its good hand flashed back out, catching hold of a dangling strip of its broken flying thing, and he blinked. That frayed strap looked too frail to support even his weight, yet it held the two-leg with ease, and the youngling slid slowly down it from the grip of that single hand.

* * *

The counter-grav's harsh, warning buzz of imminent failure clawed at Stephanie's ears.

She muttered a word she wasn't supposed to know and slithered more quickly down the broken rigging stay. It was tempting to simply let herself fall, but any object fell at over thirteen meters per second in Sphinx's gravity. She had no desire to hit the ground at that speed with an arm which was so badly broken, no matter how little she "weighed" at the moment of contact. Besides, although the stay's torn anchorage would never have supported her normal weight, it was doing just fine with her current weight. All it had to do was hold for another minute or two and --

She was only two meters up when the counter-grav unit decided to fail. She cried out, clutching at the stay as her suddenly restored weight snatched at her, but it disintegrated in her grip. She plummeted to the ground, automatically tucking and rolling as her gym teacher had taught her, and she would have been fine if her arm hadn't been broken.

But it was broken, and her scream was high and shrill as her rolling weight smashed down on it and the darkness claimed her.
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
*
Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
*
Top

Return to Snippets