Freedom's Wings

 

 

 

 

   

Chapter Twenty-four

 

 

As soon as Buck and Wilma walked into the room, Hawk rushed to them, an exclamation of surprise and delight on his lips.  Tigerman growled his pleasure from where he had been dozing.  The others gathered around the human couple, delighted at their return.  The only one who didn’t look happy was the winged guard by the door, but after a brief explanation by his companion, he settled in his chair and glowered at the newcomers.  

“Where have you been?  How did you get here?  Are you all right?”   The queries came fast and furious. 

“Whoa, one question at a time,” Buck said, feeling the joy in the room and basking in it.  

When basic questions had been answered and everyone was assured that the humans were none the worse for wear, Sky Mother took Wilma by the hand and led her back by the balcony where Mara had stood watching the exuberant proceedings.  “Somehow I knew that you and Buck were safe,” she said softly.  

“Perhaps not entirely,” Wilma answered, remembering that short time when they weren’t sure what was going to happen to them.  “It was a bit tenuous sitting in total darkness wondering if you were going to freeze to death or be executed.  We came close to both.” 

“But you are safe for now,” Sky Mother reminded her.  

“Yes, we are.”  Wilma turned to Mara who had been gazing intently at her.  “You are the Elder Leader’s beloved?” she asked in the Tane-rapanui language.  In the excitement of the moment, they had all been talking terra lingua.  

Mara nodded.  

“Then I will thank you for what your beloved did to help us.  Things happened too quickly to properly thank him before we got here.” 

Again, Mara nodded, but could not bring herself to speak in the presence of the human female.  An awkward moment passed.   

“Mara, it is as I have told you,” Sky Mother said.  “These humans are not like those that caused the ancestors to flee Earth. They are our friends.”  Again, Sky Mother took one of Wilma’s hands.  “Your hands are like ice,” she said to the terran.  “Let me get you something warm.” 

“Thank you, Sky Mother,” Wilma said.  

As Sky Mother walked away, Wilma wondered what to say to the Tane-rapanui.  “It’s not the same as it was,” she finally said.  

“But after we left Earth, your people turned on one another, almost destroying each other!” 

“That is true, but we have grown from that.”  Wilma paused.  “It is hard to overcome centuries of warlike tendencies and suspicious natures, but we are trying.”  She took a breath to gather a few thoughts together.  “There is a new galactic entity made up of many different races trying to work together for the good of all.  It’s hard, but we keep trying.”  Wilma smiled softly.  “Humans have their share of problems to overcome, just as many other species do.  If we can all cooperate, perhaps someday there won’t be anymore hatred or war.”  Wilma stopped.  It was the longest speech in the Tane-rapanui tongue she had made to date, and the most difficult.  She felt as though she had totally botched it all.  “I am not good at your language.  I hope I said it right.” 

Mara nodded.  “I think you did.”  Her wings flexed a bit from her nervousness.  

Wilma couldn’t help it; she stared at the mottled gray and ivory-feathered appendages on Mara’s back. “Your wings are beautiful.” 

Mara felt self-conscious and colored slightly in her awkwardness.  

“May I touch them?” Wilma asked and then she, too, felt shy, wondering what in the world had possessed her.  

Mara looked at her in surprise and then nodded, partially unfurling her wings.  

Gently, delicately, Wilma reached out and touched the feathers, first with one finger and then with her hand.  The touch was delicate, but Mara still flinched slightly before relaxing.  

“I’m sorry.  I guess that was . . . bold of me,” Wilma said, pulling back.  She berated herself for coming on so strong with someone who had been indoctrinated with centuries of hate and suspicion.  

“No,” Mara replied softly.  “It is just that I have never been touched by a human before.  After all the years of hearing about how evil your people are….” 

“Yes, I understand,” Wilma replied.  

“But I can tell you are not that way,” Mara hastened to say.  “You may touch them again if you wish.”  She smiled softly.  “The coloring is from my mother’s side of the family.”   The older birdwoman was quickly warming to this human female and she wondered if her male companion was as congenial.  Glancing at the group of males, it appeared that he was. 

Wilma lightly stroked the soft feathers, imagining them holding someone like Sky Mother up in flight.  It was a beautiful vision.  Then she remembered her manners.  “I’m sorry.  I am Wilma Deering.” 

“And I am Mara, beloved of Elder Leader, Ranakatu,” she introduced herself formally. 

“That would make you like Sky Mother then, wouldn’t it?” 

“Not exactly, Wilma,” Sky Mother interjected, handing the terran a cup of warm liquid.  “Leadership positions seem to have taken different directions among our two groups of the people.  Although Mara appears to have the same abilities that I do.” 

“Oh.  But Elder Leader is like Sky Father, right?” Wilma asked.  

“Yes,” both birdwomen said at the same time.  

Wilma smiled and then took a drink from her cup.  She was beginning to like Mara as much as she did Sky Mother.  Leera joined them and the four women talked together by the balcony. 

 

Buck had noticed Wilma’s absence from his side but wasn’t worried about it.  He figured she would be able to warm up the Elder Leader’s wife to humans a whole lot better than he could and Buck was too busy answering questions anyway.  Someone shoved a hot drink in his hands and he sipped it gratefully.  

After he had told of his and Wilma’s adventures in the dungeon and the subsequent rescue by Ranakatu, he began asking questions of his own.  “Who is this queen that I heard mentioned?” 

“From what Mara has told us, she is something of a joint ruler with the Elder Council,” Sky Father explained.  “Of late, though, she seems to have been attempting to gather all power to herself.” 

Buck drank more of his drink.  “It would seem that such power included the decision to arbitrarily get rid of the two humans in the dungeon,” he said dryly.  “I wonder what she hoped to gain from that.” 

“For one thing, having you and Wilma alive would negate all the propaganda that has been put out about how evil all humans are,” Hawk said.  “By proving how quick and decisive she can be during times of danger, she draws the people to her.  I suspect that by acting against you she also thought to undermine the Leadership Council’s authority even more.”  

Buck frowned.  “I don’t like being a political football.” 

Hawk knew to what Buck was referring, and concurred immediately, using another of Buck’s idioms.  “But the die is cast and we must follow this through.” 

“I know,” agreed Buck. 

“And there is this,” Sky Warrior said.  “Mara mentioned that the scientists are resuming the experiments that Garo-tura began, trying to make the iniru-mata even more virulent among humans.” 

It was silent for a few seconds while Buck assimilated that information, then he blanched.   He spat out an expletive, found an empty seat and sat down, rubbing his eyes and feeling tired in every part of his body.

“Maybe that is the other reason we are here,” Sky Father said.  “To prove that there is no longer any need for this measure.” 

Buck just sighed.  “Maybe.”

 

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Arana paced her chambers, flapping her wings once in agitation.  Her consort and the first counselor stood back, not saying anything.  She stopped and glared at the two men.  “You assured me the council was soft, weak and oblivious!” she shouted.  

“That was my perception, Highness,” the counselor said, his voice trembling slightly.  “But apparently they have their spies to tell them what is going on, too.” 

She paced some more.  “These visitors are dangerous.  Apparently there is some kind of cooperation between humans and miru-moruku on other worlds or they wouldn’t have come here together,” she mused aloud.  

“That would make our experiments useless,” the counselor said.  

“Exactly,” Arana cried out, her anger almost uncontrollable.  “And the propaganda and my revenge.”   She gazed at the two men.  “It was humans that killed our ancestors and drove them from our ancestral home and it was a human that destroyed my great-great grandfather, Garo-tura.”   The counselor started to say something, but Arana cut him off.  “Do not even begin to say anything about that being a fairy tale,” she said menacingly.  “I know it is true.  My great-great grandmother Ava-iki said it happened.”  She paused.  “No one until now has had the courage or power to do anything about it.”  Arana drew herself up to her full height.  “And I will get my revenge.”  She turned suddenly and bore down on the counselor.  “What do the old laws say about humans in our city?” 

“I believe they are subject to death.” 

“Good.  I have already taken care of that.  And outsiders?” 

“Can only be accepted into the ranks of the people by the seeing,” the counselor said, reciting centuries old law. 

“Very good,” Arana replied with a smile.  “And since these are miru-moruku, they will not have the seeing and we can deal with them as well.” 

“Yes, Your Highness.” 

Arana sat down, spreading her wings behind her.  “Good.  I do not want any of these people to leave our valley.”  She paused.  “At least not alive.” 

 

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When Mara told Wilma what the scientific community was trying to accomplish, her response was not quite as vitriolic as Buck’s, but she was nevertheless appalled.  Somehow, they would either have to convince these people to stop their efforts or get word to Earth’s scientists about this development.  “And they feel this new garox—uh, iniru-mata will affect Draconians as well?” she asked. 

“Yes,” Mara said.  “Anyone whose biological make-up is close to humans.” 

“But why Draconians?” Wilma asked.  

“Because we fear Draconians.  They are aggressive and violent like humans.”  Mara paused.  “Like some humans anyway.” 

“And the queen is pushing this, correct?” Wilma asked. 

“Yes.” 

“Seems to me she is taking this revenge thing to the next level,” Wilma said, as much to herself as anyone else. 

“It has been rumored for years that the cause of the great scientist leader’s death was caused by a human and Queen Arana is a direct descendant of Garo-tura, the inventor of what you call garox.” 

Wilma’s eyes widened in alarm and her breath caught in her throat.  She remembered what Buck had told her and realized the added danger he was in.  She felt a touch on her hand and looked up to see Mara studying her.  

“You look to have seen a ghost,” she said.  “What is it?”  In the time that she had been with the human woman, she had felt of her concern, her genuine liking for the people and she had realized that humans were as complicated as Tane-rapanui.  Some were compassionate and some were hard.  Some were evil and some good.  These two had come to do exactly what they claimed to be here for.  But then there was the look of horror on the human’s face.  And touching her brought Mara the feeling that Wilma knew something about this.  “Wilma, what do you know about Garo-tura’s death?  Is what the descendants claimed true?” 

Wilma felt the same empathic bond between Mara and herself as she had with Sky Mother.  But could she trust her?  The woman was already fairly sure she knew the answer.  She took Mara’s hand and gazed into her eyes.  “The answer will affect the man I love.  Can I trust you?” 

Mara’s gaze flicked to Buck and then back to Wilma.  Still she saw and felt only concern.  There was no subterfuge, no deceit.  This human woman feared for the life of her companion just as she herself feared for Ranakatu.  Mara nodded.  “I do not feel you are here to harm the people, so yes, you can trust me.” 

“The claim is true.” 

Mara sucked in her breath.  “But how?” 

“The cure for garox addiction led to the inventor,” Sky Mother said.  “In order to save the life of our adopted brother, we used the iniru-mata to send him to its source.  His soul resided briefly in the mind of Garo-tura.”  

This time Mara turned and stared at Buck.  “He caused the death of Garo-tura.” 

“Buck was torn between saving his own people, finding the cure for the addiction and trying not to cause harm,” Sky Mother said softly.  “Garo-tura chose suicide.  He did not have to.  Your people can choose reconciliation or they can choose continued isolation and slow death.”  She paused a beat.  “I see that for our people in my dreams.  We cannot stay isolated anymore.  Too many of our people have died that way.” 

Mara said nothing for several moments.  “Queen Arana would have gone down to the dungeons herself had she known this.”  She glanced at Buck again.  “He is not planning on telling this in the Council, is he?” 

“I am not sure, but I believe he was, Mara,” Sky Mother replied.  “What will happen later this morning I cannot tell.  Dreams of the future are not exact and the relating of dreams sometimes brings changes that change the events to come.  Perhaps what we all have to say in the council will help your people understand that revenge measures like the new iniru-mata are not the right answer.”

“I hope so,” Mara said.  And she realized that she meant it sincerely. 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-five
Chapter One
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