Original Post: http://www.authorbettyadams.com/bettys-blog/humans-are-weird-smoke-on-the-water
The low rumbling of the combustion engine was oddly soothing, wing medic Twenty-Trills thought as she adjusted the final strap of the respirator on the trembling warrior in front of her.
“You just take it easy… no marine,” she clicked down at him.
She didn’t really understand why using the human term was so universally pleasing to the massive warriors, but it did its work. The warrior gave a weak but sincere tilt to his ears. He was clearly recovering. She glanced around to see if any of the other members of either wing huddled in the center of the spacious storage compartment were free to begin grooming the warrior’s ash-covered fur. However everyone who was awake enough and uninjured enough was already tooth deep in a grooming partner already. She glanced uneasily at her own digit ends and tested the strength of her joints in her mind. As she already knew, everything hurt. Her claws were actually beginning to bleed at the quick. Other Winged’s blood and fluids caked ash, and who could sound what else in her joints? She suppressed a sigh. No point in starting to groom a traumatized warrior if she was just going to collapse on him mid-groom.
“I am going to take a rest now,” she announced to no one in particular.
There was a soft susurration of agreement as the portion of the wings who were awake expressed their approval of her plan. She did a quick headcount of the officers as she moved towards the rounded rectangle of light that comprised most of the front of the compartment. As she had suspected, she was the highest ranking member of her species conscious at the moment. She fought back another groan and staggered to the last set of restraints before the compartment ended. It was a bit disturbing to deliberately distance herself from the rest of her wing, but the frantic loading process when the camp had been evacuated had resulted in the wing being essentially centered in the space, and someone needed to act as liaison with the humans.
The humans were eerily quiet for people who were supposed to be piloting a transport large enough to count as a base in itself with all the piloting AI disengaged. Twenty-Trills stretched up her wing to shield her eyes from the light and peered at the three massive mammalian bodies folded around the control couch. The two passengers, a male and female of about the same mass, appeared to be sleeping. The male leaned his head against his curled fist and said fist against the window and had hunched his shoulders in an effort to center his weight. The female (the youngest of the group by a few decades) had also hunched her shoulders and was leaning back in the seat, her head nodding on her trunk of a neck. The smallest (if that superlative adjective could even be applied here) human, who also happened to be the oldest human female Twenty-Trills had ever seen, had her eyes focused on the optimistically labeled road they were following back to the base. They hardly seemed to be paying attention at all, and Twenty-Trills twitched in irritation.
The entire transport suddenly shuddered as the wheels struck an inequality on the surface, and the medic winced. Fortunately for all the broken bones and dislocated joints in the wing, the compartment they were in was stabilized on gyroscopes. She hadn’t felt a thing, but witnessing the world swerve like that with no physical sensation to match was not a pleasant experience. It did however give her reason to reconsider the humans’ attention levels. The dozing male angled his head and opened an eyelid a fraction to monitor the reaction of the pilot. The pilot had reacted to minimize the disruption to the passengers without taking her eyes off the road but now proceeded to check all monitors and windows. The dozing female glanced back at the compartment, and her eyes tracked the dim space for a few wingbeats as she looked for an officer.
“Hey, you the medic?” the human called out in a soft, deep tone.
“I am the medic,” Twenty-Trills confirmed.
“That bump didn’t jostle you?” the human asked.
“Not at all,” Twenty-Trills replied. “The gyroscopes on this compartment are quite capable.”
The human’s face split open into a grin that exposed her massive rocks of teeth. “Good,” she said. “We’re not a medical transport, you know. It was really lucky we had the crystal carrier handy.”
“Really lucky,” Twenty-Trills replied, unsure of the meaning but more than willing to let the humans offer adjectives at this point. She was so tired.
The male human had turned his head to look out the window now as they rounded a sharp corner in the road, and the local body of water – a loch, the humans called it – came into view. Twenty-Trills shuddered at the wispy cloud of ash that poured over the side of the surrounding hills and spilled into the valley. There wasn’t much material in the air here so far from their abandoned camp, but that there was any at all was a harsh reminder of what they had barely survived. The humans seemed to be having a different reaction. The male straightened a bit as if to free his lungs and emitted a low, musical hum.
“Smoke on the water,” sang out the driver softly.
“Fire in the sky,” the youngest female answered her, drawing the last syllable out in a croon.
The thought that she should probably be concerned about that last line if it was a description of the observed reality crossed Twenty-Trills’s mind, but she was so tired she could hardly find the energy to position her wings correctly, let alone investigate an atmospheric phenomenon that the humans clearly had under control. The older two humans started, and each turned as much attention on the youngest as their situations allowed; the male twisting his body around and straightening his massive spine and the female angling her eyes at her junior. The younger female didn’t seem to notice their contorted faces and changed positions at first, but after a few moments, she turned her attention back from the ash stream and glanced between her companions.
“What?” she asked.
“How do you know that song?” demanded the older female with a laugh.
“Everyone knows that song!” the younger protested, wrinkling her nose in an almost Winged expression of perplexity.
“Do you know the meaning?” the male demanded. The eldest female shushed him. “Or the context?” the male asked in a whisper, glancing back into the compartment.
“To be honest,” the younger female said with a laugh, “I really only know those two lines, but really, why are you two so shocked when I get the most common cultural reference?”
“You just have an air of being innocent, sweetie,” the female said with a grin.
“How innocent do you have to be to not know the proper response to smoke on the water?”
Their voices began to fade out as Twenty-Trills let sleep creep up her wingtips. She probably should stand watch, but what really was the point of having allies who considered the ground pulverizing itself and spewing itself into the air as a topic for cultural debate rather than a natural disaster if you couldn’t let them deal with this updraft once in a while?
HAW Book 3 – Available on Indiegogo October 2022
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