Six to eight million years ago giant, intelligent birds dominated the earth. What if they hadn’t disappeared? What if they were simply transplanted to another world – by the same meddling species who later misplaced a human housewife among them?Chapter One
She woke up on a mountainside amid the spectacular wreckage of some sort of vessel. It took a spell to get her wits about her - weeks, maybe. Hard tellin' with the dizziness and sick feelin's and all. But when she did come around and got to exploring some, she made a shattering discovery: she wasn't in Indiana any more! Leastways she'd never seen three moons over Medaryville before! It wasn't long before things got even more interesting. She was right smack between two warring alien races without so much as her rolling pin...
First the flames shot across the windows in long, white-hot streaks. Next a sudden rush of gravity thrust him hard into the supports. Now the little craft was engulfed in sheets of flame giving the cabin a lethal glow. Vibrating violently through the extreme pressures of atmosphere the pilot fought to hold course. The silent, starry darkness of the moment before was instantly a distant memory.
It was a time of blind reliance on instruments and calculations. The slightest error meant total incineration in the blink of an eye.
It was, in short, a typical entry.
Hurtling toward the planet below the pilot knew he now looked like a streaking comet to anyone on the surface – if there was anyone on the surface. No sign of higher intelligence had ever been found there. If there were eyes curious enough to wonder at such a display they were too alien to register on the sensors.
Finally in the clear, the pilot punched the manual override for the surface controls. Despite the dizzying rate of descent he preferred himself to the computer. Even among his kind, his flying instincts were extraordinarily well honed. His keen amber eyes, with unblinking certainty, recognized every feature of the world rushing toward him. Through the sparse cloud cover he identified the continent, the mountains, the ridge, and the particular river curving its way down to the high valley that was his destination. Welcome back to good old Pastoro, Star 689-5, Sector 24N.
Feeling the ship as he did his own body he began bleeding off speed with wide, spiraling turns. There were other ways to do it, of course, but this would give Preet, the tech monitoring his blip, some virtual consternation. There were only two satellites around the planet so far. Preet wouldn’t be getting actual visuals at this point.
While still above the cloud layer the pilot studied the horizon for the others deploying from the massive, orbiting vessel. Yes, there was a streak arcing to the east. That would be Kel heading for Sector 25N. He would be his nearest neighbor on this mission. Sector 23N contained nothing of immediate value for their purposes.
Below the clouds it was time to think about the local winds. He activated the array and took his readings, ruefully noting a sheer near the ground cushion. So much for a glide-in.
At least the sky was clear around his landing site. No lenticulars lurking among the snowy peaks – those flat, peaceful-looking clouds that would as soon slap you upside a mountain as look at you.
On the final circle he tried to spot his shelter. How had it stood up to the seasons since he’d been gone? The metal alloy modulars were probably all right, but he’d bet a few ration cakes his other crude constructions were gone. Unfortunately, approaching at this angle he couldn’t see it for the trees.
The craft swooped over a wide limestone shelf, abruptly stopped, and then gently put down.
“Pike to Preet. I have landed; Sector 24 north, designate 45.6 by 87.8 as planned. No incidents.”
“Yeah? Well, damn near had one here! Could’ve lost my ration cake tracking you in!”
“Next time go scope instead of virtual, my friend. I’ll report next from the shelter. Pike away.”
“Preet away. Be careful down there.”
Pike switched off the com, shut down the rest of the systems and went about gathering his gear.
With a hiss and a whine of hydraulics the ramp at the rear of the craft popped open and telescoped out and down. At once the cabin filled with crisp, glacial breezes and the fragrance of firs. The pilot stopped to breathe it in. How could he have forgotten how wonderful this was?
Dragging his equipment Pike plodded down the ramp and ducked through the opening. As soon as all was pulled clear from the base of the fuselage he stretched up to his full height and took another refreshing lungful of invigorating air - and nearly toppled over! Hastily he flared his wings to catch himself. The cabin pressure was calibrated to his home planet, Palotir. The outside air was thinner and would take some getting used to, not to mention the gravity effects he’d just experienced. He should have thought of that!
Dizzy and a bit nauseous, Pike remained in a hunched-over position for some time to recover and equalize. Keeping his eyes on the relatively smooth, glittery surface, he reveled in the breeze rustling among the towering conifers and brushing through his long, golden brown feathers. There would be no creature noises for a while. The disruption of his landing had precluded that.
Finally he shook himself and tentatively straightened his legs. Yes, it was better now. If he moved slowly he could go ahead and secure his craft.
At length he was ready to sort his supplies into his pack: tools, repair kits, power back-ups, and supplementary rations. Most of the stuff was precautionary. Once snapped together, the shelter’s modules were all but indestructible. The vac-packs that stored food and communications gear inside it had never failed. But that was Mission Chief Kreg for you. He never trusted anything to chance.
Resenting its weight, Pike drew the loop of the pack over his head. Next he reached around to toss the bottom strap over his back, which he then used to cinch the load snugly against the broad curve of his chest. A few feathers were lost when he pulled the tips of his wings free.
He was ready to go.
The ascent from the broad shelf jutting out from the mountainside was not helped by his pack and rarefied mountain air. Fortunately the abundance of ledges, scrub and exposed roots offered good holds for his talons. Aided by the flapping of partially unfolded wings his hops and leaps brought him quickly enough over the crest of the crag and onto the high forest floor.
For a moment Pike stood catching his breath; his articulated neck surveying the magnificent scene all around with a series of swift jerks. His quick, methodical mind gave way to sheer exhilaration. What a wonderful new aerie for his people! How many could be supported here? Well, that was what he was here to determine, wasn’t it?
He was happy to be one of the few sent back to his original sector of research. Once an area’s resources had been mapped, specialists in those elements were assigned for the return mission. But this sector, lacking concentrations of minerals or notable species, was a good fit for him. More pilot and explorer than scientist, he was listed on the team roster simply as General Land Use Surveyor.
Pastoro, the fifth planet of the Star-689 system, was a young world in geological terms. Yet it teemed with life and near-surface minerals. The plates of the outer crust were remarkably stable for this phase of its existence. While the planet’s core was still large and explosive, the vents were well charted and handling the adjustments adequately. No other weaknesses could be detected where surprise eruptions could occur.
During the first physical reconnaissance, the original team members had lived in their sectors through the planet’s entire solar calendar. They had then returned to the ship with extensive records of meteorological readings and other observations. After a period of data correlations the findings were overwhelmingly positive.
Then the testing began. How had their presence impacted the environment? At the outset the ship had been thoroughly purged and its crew screened, tested and inoculated. But had some trace of the devastating disease that had nearly wiped out all avio-sapien life have survived to infect Pastoro? Sample collecting drones produced only negative results. The Avians rejoiced and moved forward.
It had been nearly two years since Pike’s last visit, but there, about fifteen meters to the north, was the wide clearing just as he remembered it. Shafts of sunlight filtered through the towering trees to play on the ferns and the tiny flowers struggling to peek around them. With a sense of the ethereal, Pike’s taloned toes plodded slowly through this undergrowth to the center. There, his eyes bright gold in the light, he spread his wings as far as he could stretch them and turned his face to the sun. Here was hope. Here was home.
Reluctantly he ended the moment, folding in his wings one section at a time. With a sigh he shifted the pack slightly and trudged off toward the shelter. First he would air the place out, he decided, and then he would power up the com. What must the place be like by now; sealed up tight through beating sun and blankets of snow? Yecchy.
After a while he began to catch glimpses of the artificial building through the trees. Strange how the dull, metallic surface could look so shiny after seasons of wear and tear. Maybe it was just the way the sunlight reflected off it at the moment. And perhaps that grove of short, deciduous hardwoods gave more protection than he’d figured.
But when he finally emerged into the rough and rocky clearing he stopped dead in shock.
The shelter was already open.
Discovery Showcase Information
There are currently five excerpts in the queue. Here are the upcoming works, in the order in which they may appear:
- What Happened to the Indians
- Gathering of Rain – Volume I of Tales of the Valla
Comments are welcome, but remember to be nice to my authors.