High above the Australian desert, a peregrine falcon is hovering on top of a pillar of heated air--a thermal. The peregrine falcon isn't just the fasted bird on Earth--it's the fastest animal on the planet, capable of reaching speeds well over 300 kilometres an hour in a dive.
To reach such speeds, a falcon must first reach a correspondingly great height. Horus was hovering six kilometres above the ground, yet her keen eyes could see what was happening down on the ground as clearly as if she were down there.
The door to the house opened, and a man and a young girl step out onto the front lawn. The man looked up at her and then, curiously, threw a small object into the air.
For Horus, it was not curious at all. She pulled in her wings and stooped, rocketing down towards the pair, pulling out of her dive at the very last moment to snatch the object from the air before it had a chance to hit the ground!
Rat-treat clutched in one claw, Horus perched on railing of the verandah and preened to her appreciative audience. No matter how many times Lily saw Horus feeding, she was always impressed. Playing "catch" was a game that they both loved playing with Horus.
"Did it take long to teach her to play catch?" asked Lily.
"No, she's pretty smart, and she instinctively knew how to hunt this way. I just had to remind her of it."
"Were you teaching her to hunt, then?"
"Yep. After she'd got the hang of it I tried to trick her by throwing a piece of wood that I'd carved into the shape of a rat-treat, but she wasn't fooled. Her eyesight's good enough to tell the difference, even when she's that far off the ground."
"Yes…" Lily agreed, her face falling. "I'm going to go back to my room now."
Jack frowned. "Something you wanted to talk about, kiddo?"
"No, I'm fine," said Lily. "I've just to, I mean, I have some stuff to do."
Jack watched her go uncertainly. Lily usually loved it when he told her stories about Horus.
There was no doubt about it: saving the world was a picnic compared to being a father. If nothing else, he'd expected Lily to wait until she was a teenager before she turned her room into a hermitage. Having her start ahead of schedule was throwing him right off.
* * *
Jack found Zoe in the living room, sitting on the floor with her back against the couch and playing Call of Duty.
"Lily's gone back to her room again."
Zoe hit pause and twisted her head back to look up at him. "Didn't she only just come out of it?"
Jack nodded. "I just- I really don't know what to do now. I mean, I tried talking to her, but she said she was fine." He slid down onto the floor beside her and laced his fingers with hers. "She's always talked to me before."
"Actually, maybe it's not Lily that we should be talking to first," Zoe said slowly. "Have you noticed all the books Stretch brought with him on his last visit? Somehow I don't think he's so desperate for entertainment over here that he's bringing his own copy of Neuroscience and the ocular nerve."
"So… you think it's something to do with Pooh Bear?"
"It would hardly be surprising," said Zoe. "I think she's taking it harder than he is."
"So what do I do when she won't talk to me?"
"Same thing you do whenever you come across a puzzle: have faith in yourself." She leaned over and kissed him. "I may have the beginnings of a plan, though."
It was at lunch that Jack set their plan into motion, with a seemingly innocent suggestion to Lily that she come with him when he ran his errands in town that day, since the library bus was scheduled for that afternoon. Lily had hesitated, but the lure of the library was strong.
They set out after lunch.
It was no accident that Jack had decided to have his father-daughter talk with Lily in the car : it was of course hard to retreat to your room when your room was thirty kilometres back down the road.
When it came down to it, it didn't take that much.
"So, Stretch tells me he's been helping you with some research," Jack said, and words began to pour out of Lily like the summer rains.
"It's not just research! I can do it. Wizard taught me," said Lily, jaw firm. "I watched him make that leg for that lady in America, and I've been studying his work on your arm and on all the little spy cameras he was tinkering with. It's just a matter of getting the signals from the camera connected to the nerve properly and he'll be fine."
Put that way, Jack had a vision of Lily attaching Pooh Bear's artificial eye in the same way she hooked up the games console to the giant TV in their living room.
On the other hand, Lily seemed to understand exactly how the remote for their entertainment system worked, while the rest of them had had to rote learn it. Lily claimed it was easy if you read the instructions in Dutch. The rest of them had taken her word for it.
"Well, if anyone can do it, I'm sure it's you," Jack said.
"Thanks," said Lily, but she seemed to droop in her seat.
Oh, thought Jack. Time for the final part of his plan, a part that had been unclear until now: reassurance.
"Lily, you know it's okay if you don't make Pooh Bear a new eye," said Jack.
"But Dad!" Lily said, snapping her head round to look at him. "Who else is going to do it? Everyone else I've researched has been trying for years and the best they can do is something that can tell you if it's light or dark. I just want to help," she finished quietly.
And that's the hardest part of being a parent, Jack thought. How do you reassure your kid without lying to them?
You tell them the truth, he realised.
"I know. But you know we love you without any conditions, right? Being family means you don't have to be useful to stay around. We love you anyway."
"Yeah," said Lily. She smiled at him wobbly. "But I'm still going to do this. I know I can!"
"I know you can too. But you should also remember that Wizard didn't make my new arm as soon as we got back with you, you know. It took him months. I'm just saying… it's okay to take a break, now and then. We miss you when you're shut up in your room all the time. Pooh Bear misses you." He spared a glance from the road to look at Lily. "More than he misses his eye, okay? I didn't mind losing my arm, because I got you instead. Pooh Bear… he lost his eye and he's lost you, at least at the moment.
"I know it can feel like you're not pulling your weight when you take a break from something that's important, but you have to keep up on the other important stuff too. And trust me when I say there's nothing more important than family."
"You mean it?"
"Yeah, I mean it. No more working yourself into the ground and disappearing from us all, okay?"
"Okay, Dad," said Lily, and smiled at him.
Jack smiled back. He wasn't always sure of his parenting skills, but he was certain in his daughter.