A frigid and bitter wind was ripping down the slate gray rocks of the mountain side as the second wing fought it way up to the observation outpost. The Wing Commander felt his comm buzz an alert and hesitated a moment. His own stamina was more than adequate to make it at least half a flight further, but he glanced back at his wing. The older members were gritting their teeth, their lips tight with strain. The younger members, including his small Wingsecond, were flapping twice as fast as was strictly necessary to stay aloft in the wind. Even if he wasn’t cold the younger ones with their lower masses would be. He got his Wingsecond’s attention with a few chirps. It worried him that it took more than one, Seventh Trill must be colder and less responsive than he thought, but once he had the Wingsecond’s attention it was a matter of seconds to direct the flight down into the lee of a boulder.
“How is everyone staying aloft?” he asked.
There was a chorus of grunts and snarls from the old heads and a general chittering about the cold from the younger members of the flight. The Wing Commander resisted the urge to chew his winghooks while he pondered their options.
“Sir?” a particularly gregarious young comms technician piped up. “Isn’t there a human base just over that ridge there?”
It was less than a rhetorical question. The entire flight knew that the humans kept their main alpine-aquatic research station in that valley and every ear perked up at the obviously popular suggestion. The image of the bulky but lightweight coats the humans wore, the ones with copious amounts of space between the insulating layers and the massive heat-well of the mammals’ trunk for a Winged to crawl into was a soaring idea. The Wing Commander heaved a sigh as he prepared to shoot it down.
“Yes,” he said, “in fact I read in their reports just this morning that they are going to spend the entire day out in the water doing surveys.”
Nearly half of the flight drooped in disappointment at that and the Wing Commander saw the murmurs radiate out as those who knew described the skin-tight insulation the humans wore, and how even the humans’ massive heat-well would run dry under the constant flow of the thermal conductive water. However he himself perked up as he recalled the rest of the report.
“We should head in that direction anyway,” he said. “Observing the Range of Radiation just sent in a report that the compost heap the humans prepared for him at the summer solstice is finally fully functional.”
The murmuring took on a slightly elevated tone. The moist heat of a compost pile was not exactly the same as sharing a fellow mammal’s warmth, but it was far better than huddling in the lee of a boulder trying to wring enough heat out of chemical heating packs. They took off again and drew into a tight formation to face the gusts as they went over the crest of the ridge. Only a few of the smallest were blown off course but they were back in formation as they dropped down into the valley and heard the distant roaring of the rapids that tingled their sensory horns. The Wing Commander knew that technically Observing the Range of Radiation began at the edge of the scrubby gray groundcover, but he was also aware that the massive Gathering either couldn’t, or didn’t choose to, speak to anyone until the small shrubs began. Either way what they needed was heat so the Wing Commander led them straight to a small hanging valley tucked up on a south facing slope. They flew in and came to a hover above a large mound, and waited.
“Greetings Sleeping Leaves,” a deep resounding voice set the detritus on top of the mound dancing.
“Greetings Observing the Range of Radiation,” the Wing Commander returned. “May we share your warmth on this windy day.”
“My own warmth is very deep today,” Observing the Range of Radiation stated. “Perhaps you would prefer the new pile the humans’ so thoughtfully built for me.”
The Wing Commander shot a look at the steaming pile of leaves and detritus and gave a quick nod to his wing. In a flicker they had darted over and burrowed into the mass. The Wing Commander and a large old diplomat lingered a few beats longer.
“Thank you,” the Wing Commander said.
“I am pleased to be of aid,” Observing the Range of Radiation said. “I am pleased to that you came at this angle.”
“He means the time of day,” the old diplomat translated at the Wing Commander’s blank look.
The Wing Commander chirped with interest.
“What is happening?” he asked politely, he guessed solar flares, it usually was solar flare patterns with Observing the Range of Radiation.
“The humans will be testing the new transportation equipment on the great scattering today,” the slow voice said.
Of course anything that involved the humans was more interesting than otherwise but the Wing Commander wasn’t quite sure what about it sent a chill along his sensory horns, that is until the muttering of the diplomat suddenly broke into a shocked squawk.
“The great scattering!” the diplomat yelped out. “That set of class seven rapids! Their order of the water craft-”
“By the mother tree!” the Wing Commander snarled. “Where? When-”
He cut himself off and flicked a winghook at the diplomat to silence him. The Wing Commander took a deep breath and gritted his teeth. Observing the Range of Radiation was humming in perplexity at them.
“Where are the humans?” the Wing Commander asked, forcing himself to speak slowly.
“You would understand the data they sent us far better than I would,” Observing the Range of Radiation stated, “but they told me to watch for them at this angle of sun from my new pile.”
“Thank you!” the Wing Commander said and darted over to the pile with the diplomat following him.
He burrowed into the warmth and called for the medic and the range finder.
“Are you okay sir?” the medic asked with concern.
“What’s the best view of the class seven rapids we can get from this pile?” the Wing Commander demanded of the range finder.
The range finder blinked in surprise and pointed a winghook.
“Anywhere in the top quarter of the south side of the pile offers a wonderful view of them,” he said. “That’s where most of the wing is positioned. It’s also the warmest side at the moment.”
The Wing Commander darted out of the warm pile and flew around to position himself. He scanned the river that ran down the valley upstream of the rapids. The diplomat was spreading the explanation to the rest of the wing. It was only moments later when someone whistled out that they had spotted the humans.
Each of the humans was encased from neck to waist in the skintight thermal insulation, but this looked different, thicker than usual. Their heads were encased in full helmets that looked more appropriate to deep space than a fully habitable planet. Their lower halves were folded into the watercraft they called kayaks and the gripped the water-wings they called paddles in their hands.
“Hold,” the Wing Commander ordered to the several flight members he could hear preparing to take off. “We couldn’t get down there fast enough to do anything if this goes wrong. It will be best to get warm and be ready to report anything to the main human base.”
There was a muttering of horror as the humans raced faster and faster towards the rapids and then they were among the rocks. The kayaks and the humans in them were tossed into the air, thrown against boulders with force that made every winged wince, and repeatedly submerged under water. The class seven rapids were long, but the humans eventually came out the other end landed their craft on the bank. A sigh of relief ran through the wing as the watched the humans get out of the craft and stretch on the bank they began to discuss what had possessed the normally staid researchers to take such a risk. This was interrupted by a chime from the communications unit the young comm officer was carrying.
“Isn’t that their signal?” the old diplomat demanded, gesturing at the humans far below on the bank of the river.
“It is,” the comm officer said with a confused wrinkling of his nose. “They must have a portable datanode with them. They updated the geo-database. Those,” he indicated the rapids are now class six rapids?”
“Do they give an explanation?” The Wing Commander asked.
“They only added, due to technological advancements,” the comm officer said, staring down at the bright yellow figures below them.
The wing watched the humans climb back into their kayaks and take off further down the river.
A massive sigh ran through them as they hunkered back down into the warmth of the pile.
“The humans are always worth watching are they not.” the soft voice of the Gathering asked.
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What does it mean when your human friend says “Watch This?”? Why does this simple phrase seem to terrify any alien that has first appendage experience with humans? #HFY #HumansAreWeird #HumansAreSpaceOrcs #EarthIsADeathWorld #EarthIsSpaceAustralia
Hey! The books are moving well on Amazon and now have 165 reviews and ratings! If you bought the book and enjoyed it, it would really help me out if you leave a quick star rating on Amazon. A review would be great but just stars would be a huge boost *****!
QUICK NOTE: RE: everyone who asked. The book is avaliable in Amazon regions US-UK-DE-FR-ES-IT-NL-JP-BR-CA-MX-AU-IN. HOWEVER The above link only takes you to the US Amazon site. The one indicated by the .com ending. If it says "not avaliable in your country" that just means that you need to click over to your Amazon region.
Of course if you want a signed first edition you can email me at the email on my website and I can ship you a signed Author copy of the first edition for the same price as the crowdfunding campaign $35 domestic and $60 overseas. I'll do that until I run out of extra books.