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    Volume 8, Issue 4, November 30, 2013
    Message from the Editors
 Cortex by Steve Rodgers
 Page of Skulls by Tony Peak
 At Wave's Ebb by Eric Del Carlo
 The IUD that Landed in Grandpa's Backyard by Fredrick Obermeyer
 Discarded by Miranda Suri
  Column: Spec Fix in Flicks by Marty Mapes
  Editors Corner Featuring Betsy Dornbusch


At Wave's Ebb

Eric Del Carlo

         They fly. It is forbidden. They fly anyway. Helicopter flight paths, insectile rooftop antennae, black silk phone wires webbing the city--ordinances prohibit interference with these. But it's all just an excuse to ground them. They fly nimble and quick, like Jack over the candlestick. It's a city in Renewal. It is a world of Renewal. But that revival and global solidarity do not include them, the June-Eighters.
         So they do what only they can, and fly.
         Gables and parapets, gargoyled pinnacles, cupolas, domes. Here they alight to rest and regroup and gloat over adventures. Piedmont stays with the flock. He likes--maybe needs--the camaraderie, the assurance of numbers. They fly at night because the city seems theirs at night. Daylight makes them targets for vigilante snipers. Officially, the June-Eighters are absolved of their collaboration with the Wave during the war. Reversion surgery is not compulsory, so the Renewed World Court has decreed. Submission to the procedure, however, is strongly encouraged.
         But so many humans want to forcibly clip June-Eighters' wings and do worse still to them for their part in the war. Or perhaps the humans just want to wipe away the last evidence of the Wave.
         Piedmont doesn't remember what he did during the war. Actually, that is not quite true. He remembers it the way you are left with images from a dream, a dream from childhood, even. He recalls purposeful flight, reconnaissance missions, the steady sharp thumping of objective in his brain, purposes that would change instantly with the altered broadcasts from the Wave.
         Now he flies because the flock flies. He jubilates because the others do so. It's a madcap whirlwind every night--jaunts and capers and barnstorming, experiencing the city as only they can, from on high, in banks and power dives.
         Pressed, though, he probably couldn't answer the question: Are you happy living like this?
         The flock crowds a roof. They aren't a set number, not an organized legion. Individuals come and go, and no one is repelled or restrained. June-Eighters do not fight among themselves. But Piedmont never strays.
         He feels the fliers rustling. They sport umbrellas of flexible crystalline tissue and thews. Alien flesh grafted to their backs. Otherworldly appendages.
         Only the massive gamma burst directed at the low-orbit coordinates fixed above Tierra del Fuego allowed humans to understand the Wave. The Wave could die. The Wave did die, but only when all the nations of the Earth came to common cause. The feel-good residue of that vast globe-spanning, culture-inclusive effort is the Renewal. A new age for humankind. Armistice. Cooperation. Fellowship.
         For all but those born on June the 8th, 2009. These the Wave selected, every last child across the face of the world. They were fourteen years and four-and-a-half months old at the time of their abduction/conversion.
         The restlessness grows. On the rooftop, among aerials and ventilation ducts, the flock stirs, rouses. Finally, someone unfurls. The crackling snap of crystal flesh passes through the others like an electrical jolt. Piedmont's heart suddenly races. He makes that movement with his shoulders, the familiar roll and quick jerk, and feels the release of his flying members. Pleasure and anticipation roil in him. He is naked to the waist. He hasn't worn a shirt in years. The cool night air doesn't bother him.
         Dozens of footsteps crunch toward the lip of the roof, hurrying.
         The flock leaps. The flock takes flight. Piedmont is in the thick of it, grinning.
         They aren't fourteen and a-half-years-old now, and the war isn't on anymore. They are, all of them, seventeen years, two months and some-odd number of days. The Wave has been defeated. Earth is still recovering from the decimation, a literal decimation; estimates have it that one in ten worldwide died during the hostilities. June-Eighters too were killed in the course of the war. They were deemed legitimate combatants, no matter that they'd been impressed into the service of the enemy and were forced via mind control to do the Wave's bidding.
         Now they are only pariahs. Submission to reversion surgery is the only out offered. Lose the wings. Meanwhile, civil laws enacted to protect their rights end up marginalizing them. Petty city ordinances forbid them from flying. It's rank prejudice.
         Piedmont knows it is best to keep with the flock.
         They dive. Wind screams into Piedmont's face, pulling his grin wider. They come up, level off. It's not magical how they move as one. Birds do it. Fish too. It is nothing left over from the broadcasts of the Wave. They aren't subject to direct external mental influence anymore. They don't share a group consciousness. They just know when to bank, to swoop. A decent soccer team behaves the same way.
         Flying is a joy. Or it usually is. It's certainly what holds their band together. They fly, they roost, they defy the law. They live outside the Renewed society because those hypocrites don't want them. So be it. There is adventure enough in the sky over the city.
         Piedmont rhythmically flexes his shoulder blades. His appendages stroke the night air. They are so a part of him; have been for years. The others scoff at the idea of reversion surgery, but for him it holds a distinct horror. He fears it as he would castration. He remembers enough of his life before his abduction, though those scenes are hazier even than his war memories. He recollects that he was no one special, had no talents, wasn't set up to make any real contribution later in life. The abduction itself he remembers only as a vague sense of blinking out, of instantaneous displacement.
         He had a family, and his family was contacted after the war and informed that he was among the survivors. That had come after the Wave's gamma-induced annihilation, when a unit of mixed-nations military had found him walking a fire lane in Nebraska, dehydrated, disoriented, head ringing with silence for the first time since he'd been given his wings.
         He escaped the internment camp a few days later, at his first opportunity. The Wave were gone, but he couldn't go back to his family, not with wings on his back. He also felt shame for not having spared them a thought during the war. In memory they seemed almost as alien to him as the Wave. That old life was done. He needed a new one.
         He found it, in the city.
         Down they plunge into canyons, glass-walled, steel-faced. They dodge pesky telephone wires. The crystalline wings make them incredibly maneuverable, and they are all practiced fliers.
         In the internment camp, officers questioned Piedmont. They were kindly and puzzled. They didn't understand the Wave, who had come to this planet via extraordinary means, evidently popping into that low orbit over the pointy toe of South America from nowhere at all. Yet when they had commenced their hostilities, they had gone decidedly retrograde. Their air-breathing aircraft burned hydrocarbons. Their weaponry was projectile-based. It was all very diesel punk.
         Why? asked Piedmont's interrogators, who got less kindly and patient with each question.
         Piedmont didn't know. No June-Eighter had any insight into the Wave, so far as he was aware. They had been windup toys during the war. He did, however, recognize how little sense it made. The Wave had pulled off a massive and fantastically specific campaign of worldwide abduction. Whatever technology had materialized, the Wave mothership was apparently used to snatch up every child whose birthday fell on the 8th of June, 2009. Furthermore, those teenaged boys and girls, who numbered north of 350,000, were subsequently delivered to the big ship, grafted with appendages that gave them flight capability, and wired for instantaneous mind control.
         If they could do all that, asked the camp officers, why didn't the Wave wage a better, more sophisticated war?
         No answers. Not then, not now. The Wave, individually, were crystalline blobs who made no attempts at communication with Earth's inhabitants. The June-Eighters were used as simple spotters. The Wave attacked from the air and on the ground. They employed no weapons of mass destruction. Maybe they had none. Maybe they wanted the planet in near-mint condition. As Earth's militaries gradually united and long-standing cultural blockades dissolved, efforts to send up nukes against the mothership all failed. That vast orbiting base could defend itself.
         Against everything, it turned out, but a concentrated eruption of gamma radiation. That tremendously complicated and expensive scientific/militaristic undertaking was what had truly instated this age of Renewal. After the death of the mothership had come a costly mop-up, with none of the enemy allowing itself to be taken alive. And when the last of the Wave were dead nearly three years after the war's start, only the winged children remained.
         The night rakes Pidemont's body. His umbrella-like wings function perfectly to keep him airborne and balanced.
         The flock whips above the lights and spires. They are, to some extent, genuine lawbreakers. Piedmont acknowledges this. But their criminality is limited to that of street urchins. They filch a little, mostly food. They stay alive. They stay together, except for those who slip away and don't come back. Piedmont remembers faces. The flock doesn't talk about the absent ones. But he believes that individuals go off and submit to the reversion surgery, hoping to rejoin their families and maybe humankind at large. He wonders sometimes if any of them find what they are looking for.
         They loop toward a damaged section of the city, which is being rebuilt in the all-embracing spirit of Renewal. The Wave has left it looking like old photos of London during the Blitz.
         A new urgency ripples through the flock, even as they perform their airborne acrobatics. Someone has seen something. Food. For the taking. Piedmont deduces this through the body language of his comrades. His stomach rumbles. He lifts one shoulder blade slightly above the other, rolls his slim body and plummets. Downward they go through a skein of wires strung between hollow scorched buildings braced with scaffolding. This will be another caper, another lark, though, really, this is how they survive. If they made it a more serious business, it might seem grim and desperate.
         Piedmont's grin falters a bit as an errant family memory comes to him with unusual sharpness--the breakfast table, parents, a sibling, warm aromas of food, the security of steady meals. For an instant he is back there, occupying a place at the table, eating his breakfast, no crystalline appendages on his back.
         The wires suddenly twang around them, opening up into large mesh swaths. Those at the fore of the flock smack into them, stretching the metallic links. The nets are securely anchored to the structures on either side. A pileup follows instantly, even as the fliers react, twisting, pivoting, looking for a way out of the abrupt tangle. Bodies crash into each other with fleshy thuds.
         Piedmont recognizes the danger at the same time the others do. He maneuvers frantically, but the flock's symmetry is broken and all is chaos. Someone's foot clips his temple. A wing catches him under his knees, and he goes into a spin. This uncontrolled whirl actually takes him over the top of the closest net. He sees in a flash how the nets have been cleverly laid out to catch airborne traffic between the under-reconstruction towers.
         Whoever set this trap, Piedmont knows, isn't trying to trap pigeons.
         They must look like mackerel struggling to escape a trawler's net, he thinks as he lunges and wheels, moving more deliberately now, planning his moves, looking to get above this fray. A new memory surfaces, pushing aside the familial breakfast table. He recalls dodging anti-aircraft flak in the war. The details are suddenly vivid--the concussive pounding, the hot stink. The Wave apparently saw through his eyes on those reconnaissance missions and used his information strategically. He was good in the air. He still is, despite the fear and confusion he feels.
         It is a disaster. Most of the flock is snared, wriggling uselessly in the mesh. Piedmont doesn't know if this is a police operation or something put together by vigilantes. He listens for gunshots, even as he swerves and climbs, nearly over the worst of it now.
         He hears no gunfire. But there is something else, an abrupt barrage of hollow thwuut sounds. Suddenly metal hummingbirds fill the air. Cries of surprise, and maybe pain, come from below, from the now bulging nets. These are darts, Piedmont realizes even without ever having encountered them in combat. During the war it was all about killing. This might be something else.
         Clear dark sky opens overhead, and a surge of desperate joy goes through him as he leaps for it. But he still feels panic, and anger and shock suddenly add to that fear as a sharp jolt stabs him right in the ass. Dammit! The pain isn't great, but he yelps anyway. He reaches behind instinctively and finds the steel projectile pinned to his right buttock. He plucks it free and drops it, and beats his wings harder, aiming upward.
         But, as it wasn't only a few seconds ago, that movement is now an effort. Suddenly, everything is heavy. Gravity reaches up for him, jealous and vengeful. He has too long defied this force. He feels torpid. The wings on his back, which stopped feeling like attachments long ago, are abruptly clumsy and difficult to control.
         He makes a last frenzied vault for the freedom of the high sky. Then his strength gives out, and he starts to fall.
         Turning again, this time limply and facedown, he sees he will miss the nets. Others of the flock, caught in the mesh, are slowing their struggles. They have been darted too. The shooters of the tranquilizer guns--presuming the darts aren't poisonous--must be hidden behind the scaffolds. Cunningly planned, this ambush. A second later, as he drops, he sees the last cunning component of it: the bait. On a shelf of protruding scaffolding sits a crate filled with cans of food. It's the sort of handy fare they often snatch.
         Far below--but less far with every instant--waits the street. Piedmont has not feared heights in a long time. His June-Eighter instincts still work, still tell his wings what to do to alter his descent. But his body can't obey.
         Or can't completely obey. He discovers a last flicker of willful movement within himself and jerks his shoulders and throws a dimming effort into spreading his wings, just a few hairsbreadths. It is enough to catch the air as streetlights and asphalt rush up at him. He can't really steer himself; can only veer away from the street. At the moment that is good enough.
         Piedmont veers to the left, toward the lower floors of one of the buildings. The damage to the structure is less severe down here, though thankfully none of the shattered windows have yet been replaced. He sails through a large empty rectangle without even bumping the frame. But he has glided at high speed into total darkness. He can't even get his hands up. He crashes into something, maybe a ladder, that goes clattering away into the black, then he is rolling helplessly across a floor, glad that there is a floor. When he finally hits something solid, he is aware only of the impact and the dark that rushes over him, taking him completely.


         He is handled and carried. He hears voices or a voice, coaxing him. An engine buzzes. It all feels unreal.
         Then the engine no longer buzzes. He has lost a segment of time. This is indoors, no night wind on his body. He senses walls. He lies on something soft. A blanket--no, something thicker, like a quilt or comforter--is spread over him. He is used to sleeping on rooftops, inside ducts, nesting at the tops of elevator shafts. This room is dim, its door ajar, he sees as he opens his eyes.
         Someone is speaking outside the room, definitely more than one voice this time.
         "I'm glad to have him here, Mary. I'm not glad about you!"
         "Dammit, I brought him--"
         "And that was the right thing to do. But we don't know your motives. We don't know who the hell you are anymore, with that dumb-ass armband!"
         "I've explained! I want to help those poor souls--"
         "Give me a goddamn break. Has it ever occurred to you Purity types that those `poor souls' don't want or need your help? They're a new species, and they deserve to be preserved!"
         "Okay, okay, both of you. Enough. Mary's not a part of the Purity movement, Vonda, and everybody knows that. We don't have to like the Collectors--I certainly don't--but the police look the other way where their operations are involved. What we have to focus on is that person in the other room. What do we do with him? I'd like to hear some reasoned debate about that."
         The last voice is gravelly and male. Vonda sounds younger than him and Mary younger still. Piedmont remains groggy. He finds he is quite comfortable in this bed. He lies slightly on his side to accommodate his wings. Bit by bit he checks his body. He hurts here and there, but he doesn't find a major injury. He must have had a lucky landing. Of course, anything would have been better than smacking the street like a wet sandbag.
         He starts suddenly at the thought of the flock, and that jerking movement creaks the bed and lights up a few areas of pain that his gentle inventory missed. He probably has bone bruises and several severe scrapes. And what about the dart he took in the butt? Apparently it didn't contain poison. Maybe he even pulled it out before he received a full dose of knockout juice. Little by little he reassembles his consciousness, listening all the while to the voices in the adjacent room.
         They do indeed debate. It's all about him, the June-Eighter, who this younger woman named Mary evidently rescued from the lower floor of that building and transported here. This is somebody's apartment, maybe that of the older gravel-voiced man, who is addressed as Boris. But this place also seems like some sort of de facto headquarters. These are activists, and there are at least a dozen present. They espouse lots of political opinions. The Renewed Earth apparently isn't idealistic enough for them. They want a utopia, with absolute equality and immaculate justice. That specifically includes, Piedmont is surprised to learn, the June-Eighters.
         By now things feel more real. That awful feebleness he felt before in the air has lessened to a mild weakness. He realizes he is still hungry. He is also warmer and better rested than he has been in years, it seems like. He stretches luxuriously beneath the covers. The bed frame creaks again.
         This time the conversation outside comes to a halt. Piedmont holds his breath, wondering if he should be afraid. Steps come to the bedroom door, and a head pokes inside. Light from the outer room catches an obsequious smile.
         "Hello there." It is Vonda's voice. In a fawning tone she adds, "Sorry if we woke you. Come out if you want, when you want." Then she disappears, and he hears her ordering people out of the apartment, even if this really is Boris' home. There is a general rumble of exiting. A front door closes heavily some distance off.
         Piedmont isn't sure about going out there. But the idea of confronting these strange folk has seized his imagination. He knows he won't doze again. Also, he has to urinate.
         He moves gingerly. It is odd being indoors like this, but the walls and ceiling don't unnerve him like he might have expected them to. He hobbles to the bedroom door.
         Mary, Vonda and Boris are the only ones left. Boris, who wears a long graying beard and eyeglasses, gestures him toward the bathroom. Piedmont has pulled his wings in so that they curl about his shoulders. He can maneuver through doorways this way.
         When he emerges again, Vonda has gone into the kitchen to rattle pots and pans. He looks Mary over. She is indeed young, maybe even his age. She is dressed in functional clothing, with an armband around one arm. He doesn't recognize the colorful insignia.
         "Welcome. I'm Boris McClendon. You're safe here. Nothing's going to happen to you without your say-so. Okay?" His smile appears more sincere than Vonda's.
         "If you're comfortable with it, you want to give us your name?"
         "Sounds good." Boris nods.
         "Hello, Piedmont. I'm Mary."
         "You got me out of that building. You brought me here."
         Mary looks shyly at the toe of her work boot. "You remember that?"
         "I was listening. Earlier." It should feel strange talking to regular people like this, Piedmont knows. He is accustomed to the flock, to his kind. But these folk don't frighten him for some reason.
         "Well," Boris says, spreading his hands apologetically, "I hope we didn't sound too contentious. We are a peaceful group."
         "Peaceful, my ass!" comes from the kitchen, but Vonda follows it with a chuckle, which the other two take up.
         Piedmont likes the laughter. The apartment looks quite lived in, stacked with odds-and-ends furniture and crammed with books. After surveying it, he finds his gaze returning to Mary's armband. She realizes it and squirms sideways, as if embarrassed. Or ashamed.
         Boris appears to be on the verge of saying something to defuse the tension. But it is Vonda who steps out from the kitchen this time to say, "She's a Collector. They're vigilantes who round up June-Eighters and force them to take reversion surgery."
         "We don't force--"
         "Brainwash, then! Dupe. Coax. It's your stated goal, sweetie. Turn the fliers back into humans. Make them give up who they are and--"
         "Was anyone killed?"
         They all freeze. Piedmont has asked his question softly. He doesn't repeat it. He waits.
         Mary says, "No. All of you were supposed to be in the nets before they fired the tranquilizers. What happened was a...mistake." She looks past her toe now, through the floor. Her young, reasonably pretty face has paled.
         Piedmont is glad there were no deaths.
         Several seconds of uncomfortable silence reign. Then Vonda says, "Food's ready. We can all eat."


         Boris hands him a bundle of fabric that turns out to be a serape. Piedmont's ribs stick out noticeably. The serape accommodates his wings while covering his torso. He is still in wincing pain. Boris offers him a pill. Piedmont hesitates about introducing any more foreign agents into his system, but takes it anyway and is glad when his hurts ease noticeably after a few minutes.
         The four of them sit down to a banquet, though the other three treat the occasion like a normal meal. Piedmont eats until his tight stomach is full, then he eats some more. There are mashed potatoes glutted with melted garlicky butter, steamed vegetables, strips of broiled beef. For a beverage Piedmont chooses among milk, juices and fresh clear water. Boris opens a bottle of wine, which no one else touches.
         The tension between Mary and Vonda is evident. Piedmont watches as Vonda snipes at the younger woman. Vonda doesn't like the Collectors and is incensed that Mary belongs to this group. Piedmont has never heard of these Collectors before, but he knows about the vigilante hostility toward his kind.
         He deduces that Mary once belonged here, among this politically active group. Her change in loyalty has damaged what was probably a close friendship with Vonda, though something of the original bond remains. Boris interjects high-flown musings that just as often don't bear on any particular point being made at the table. Piedmont answers questions now and then. They are all curious about him but treat him gently, gingerly.
         It is strange, yet...familiar. Eating at a table. Once again he remembers this scenario, with his family. It sets faraway but potent emotions ringing through him.
         Finally, he asks a question, only his second one. "Where are the others in my flock now?"
         Again this freezes them. Boris has a notepad on the tabletop between his empty plate and full wineglass. Piedmont sees him quickly scratch down the word "flock."
         Mary answers. "We--the Collectors have a warehouse. Everybody is taken there, given a bed, food. Then they talk to the June-Eighters--"
         "They indoctrinate them!"
         "Christ, Vonda, can I finish a damn sentence? The Collectors hold them for twenty-four hours and try to help them remember what life was like before the war, before they were abducted and converted. We know the process causes memory distortion. The Collectors make the effort because they care. Some of them had children taken by the Wave. Some of those children died. How you live, Piedmont...it's not decent. It's not healthy. Not..."
         "Human?" Vonda doesn't shout this time. She says this word sadly, as if weighted down with disgust.
         Mary looks across the table levelly at the other woman. "Right. It's not human. The Wave were the enemy, Vonda. And they violated members of our species to aid them in their war against us. Reversion can undo that harm."
         A vitriolic back-and-forth follows. Vonda, and probably other members of the larger group, believe the June-Eighters to be sovereign beings, no matter their origin. They should be totally accepted as is. Mary dissents. It ends with Vonda storming away from the table and slamming the apartment door behind her. Boris, eyes blinking heavily now, makes another note on his pad.
         Mary clears the dishes, and they move into the front room. Boris opens another bottle of wine as he settles into a deep, raggedly-upholstered chair. Mary and Piedmont sit on the couch. He likes having a full belly. The serape abrades his skin a little, but it's like he is still lying in the bed under the comforter, and that's nice.
         The front room has a window. The nighttime city lies beyond it. They appear to be on an upper story of the apartment building.
         "Why did you bring me here?" he asks.
         Mary is able to meet his eyes now. Hers are a soft brown, long-lashed. "When I saw you fall, I panicked. Tonight's was the first operation I've ever gone out on. I thought the Collectors were better organized, more careful. But they fired off before all you fliers were safely in the nets. I was on the street, watching the vehicles they were to load you in to. When you came plummeting downward, my heart jumped into my throat. You veered at the last second. I couldn't believe it. I went racing up to find you. Somewhere along the way I decided I had to get you out of there. The Collectors couldn't be trusted--not entirely, anyway. They'd almost killed you! So I brought you here, knowing Boris would protect you."
         Piedmont glances and sees Boris with his whiskered chin on his chest, eyes shut behind his eyeglasses. Mary gets up to take the half-full glass from his hand. When she returns to the couch, she sits closer to Piedmont, her knee almost touching his.
         She gazes at him a long while. He doesn't squirm under the scrutiny. He feels something else instead, a thing that has stirred in him from time to time when he is near the female members of the flock.
         "Can I..." she starts.
         "What?" he wants to know.
         She blushes. It is different from the conflicted shame she showed earlier. She finally finishes, "Can I touch your wing?"
         It startles a laugh out of him, but he is not amused; rather, further aroused. He turns a shoulder toward her, where the serape leaves his appendage uncovered. "Go ahead."
         She does it tentatively--not, he thinks, because she is fearful but because she is fully absorbing the moment, recording it for a permanent memory. Her fingers brush his crystalline flesh. As she caresses it further, he flexes and the wing opens a bit. Her brown eyes are wide and wondering. She isn't repulsed. She might be dedicated to reverting the June-Eighters to strictly human form, but she doesn't fear them, or him at least.
         Piedmont feels a growing skittering excitement.
         "Do you like that?" Mary asks, still stroking him.
         "Yeah." His voice quavers.
         "Conversion supposedly dampens your sexual responses. The Wave probably didn't want you distracted. Strange that they picked fourteen-and-a-half-year-olds in the first place."
         "Aerodynamics," he says and sees her surprised by the big word. He has been fairly closed-mouth since he emerged from the bedroom, not demonstrating much in the way of intelligence. But the flock talked among itself, and some were smart. "We were the right muscle mass, low body weight. Maybe our brains were ripe for the whole conversion process. The Wave picked the date they thought best. June 8th, 2009." He recalls one among the flock saying they wouldn't be able to fly as fully-grown adults, that the ratios just won't work. Piedmont doesn't know if this is true. The one who said so went away on her own one night and didn't come back.
         Mary releases his wing with what looks like great reluctance. Her eyes suddenly shine. A sob rattles her. "Yes. Yes, that was the day indeed. June 8th."
         He doesn't understand why she is upset, but he doesn't want to see her this way. She has been good to him. He wouldn't have liked being locked in a warehouse for twenty-four hours. This place and this hospitality are much better.
         "What's wrong?" he asks.
         She sucks in a long breath and steadies herself. But she still looks fragile as she levels her gaze with his. "I was born on June 7th, 2009. Five hours before midnight. I was almost...you." After that she really does cry. Maybe out of sorrow and sympathy for him, maybe from guilt that she was so arbitrarily spared his fate. Perhaps a dash of envy figures in to those tears as well. Piedmont has never held a crying person in his arms before, but he does so now. She burrows into his embrace. He gives his shoulder blades a flex, and his wings unfurl over her there where they sit together on the couch.
         When she stops crying, she raises her head.
         She presses her wet face to his and kisses him. It is entirely new for him.


         Later, while Boris continues to softly snore, Mary goes to the window and opens it. She stands aside and smiles at him, the warmest smile he has seen tonight. They are four stories above the street. But Piedmont shakes his head. He has made up his mind. It was not the kisses or anything that followed that made his decision. It was the meal, at a table with three other people, like it was with his parents and sibling before the war. He wants that security again. He will relearn his family, and they will not seem alien to him. The flock has only been a substitute, he finally understands.
         He still fears the reversion surgery, but he can face the special horror of it now. He will remember Mary's hand upon his wing for all his days, whether he is in the air or on the ground.

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