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Cages and Sanctuaries

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Amae floated just ahead of Elida in a very poorly fitting pressure suit, sort of perpendicular and upside down-ish. Elida maneuvered Amae's 'outside' toolkit until it was next to the grate she was examining with a great deal of concern, and locked its magnets onto the hull of the Winnipeg.

"Wow, how did you manage to get quartzfish in your lateral stabilizer vents?"

"Yeah, that's kind of a funny story. I was about to be boarded by an auto-pirate drone, and there was this orbital wildlife preserve, so..." [eye contact] "...You know, maybe funny wasn't the right word."

"I definitely want to hear it, but it sounds more like an after-we-clean-the-fish-grease-off-our-suits-and-find-a-drink story, not a strapped-to-the-outside-of-a-tumbling-ship-doing-emergency-repairs story. Number eight spanner?"

"Uh. Here you go."

"My Mom used to take Chaz and me to a wildlife restoration park just outside of our city. My people hadn't been very... good... with our wildlife, and they were trying to grow back the animals that used to roam around before the time of the cities."

"I thought this wasn't story time?"

"Oh, when you talk I can't concentrate on what I'm doing. I mean, when anyone is talking, really. When I talk while I'm working, it helps me focus."

"So, the restoration park?"

"Right. So, this one time there was this Ornifer blocking the shuttle, but it had its backside to us. It just stood there swishing its tail back and forth for the longest time. So, Chaz dared me to reach out and touch the tail."

"Did you?"

"Yep. Only... turns out Ornifers have prehensile tails."

"Oh no."

"Clicked around my wrist and lifted me right over the guardrail. Sure, 'then' it turned around. Looked me up and down with its five eyes, dropped me in a pond, and then just... wandered off."

"I'll have to have Chaz show me that picture."

"How did you know he took a picture?"

"Um, because I definitely would have. You know, when I was little, they used to have this whole ceremony where they would have me feed the Wanula birds at the end of the three moons festival. They were gigantic, translucent, and elegant. They also smelled like old urine and were absolutely nasty to their handlers. It wasn't the life they were meant for - I'd have been nasty too - but I really hated those things when I was a kid. I was so scared when I was really little, but my mom said I had to do it, so I just started to hate them. When I was seven, I decided... oh, wow... I decided I would get the better of those big dumb birds. They had these really shimmery blue and purple feathers under their beaks, and I decided when I got right up close, I was going to take one."

"Oh..."

"It's okay, it has a happy ending. Well, I guess. But wow, I was so dumb. Those things had beaks as long as my full grown arm, and tiny me thought I could just reach up and tear off a feather. Anyway, they give me the ceremonial grain, and sure enough I reach in with one hand to feed it the grain, and with the other... yank a feather out from underneath this gigantic creature's chin."

"Crackers."

"So, the bird stops chewing the grain, and it kind of turns its head to the side to see the feather in my hand. It calmly chews once or twice more, then just opens up wide and lets out the loudest, most bone-shaking screech you ever heard. Then it calmly looks at me again, picks the feather out of my hand with its beak without even brushing my skin, and just takes off. The handlers had it tied down - yeah, I know - but it breaks out of those ropes like nothing and just flies off toward the moons. Without a word, my mom and the other attendants just turn me around and start walking down the hill. We walked all the way back to the palace, and let me tell you, the smell did not fade."

"Phbt! Don't make me spit in my helmet!"

"I'm sorry, Amae. I'm just distracting you."

"Oh, no you're not. I actually finished a couple minutes ago. Let's go clean up and find that drink."

"Yeah, uh, sure."

...

"You know, they said the revolutionaries released the Wanula birds. What do you think happen with the Ornifers?"

"Oh, people ate them during the war."

"Oh."