by Dan Swanson, based on a concept by Tynnechris
“Burroughs, make sure you remember — the Feitherans are not our enemies,” said Canary. “Rather than use force against them, you will terminate the mission and withdraw immediately. Do you understand me?” She waited for a second until he nodded. “Good! You may be the official Legion foulup, but if you foul this one up, you might as well stay on Earth and surrender to Amgov!”
Canary had used her best commanding officer voice, and it was working. Drake Burroughs thought she sounded uncomfortably like General Urbane. Would she really lock him in a wooden box and send him back to Earth? Greenfire was glad the pre-mission strategy session was over. Facing the entire Feitheran nation had to be easier than contradicting Canary in a briefing. He and Hawk Lad, alias Horus, headed for the transporter room carrying their mission packs, where Gernsback called up a boom tube for them. Next destination, Feithera.
Horus had not been back to Feithera since he had been exiled five years ago. He had never spoken with his fellow Legionnaires about the reasons he had been exiled, except to reassure them that it was not for any criminal act. At the direction of General Urbane, the former Legion leader Psiborg had read his mind. Urbane told them that Psiborg had verified that Horus was not a Feitheran criminal, then ordered them to never mention it again. So nobody else knew the real story.
The Feitherans had originally established their refuge in lower Greenland, but when their original city was destroyed back in the twentieth century, they established the nearby colony of New Feithera. Since then, however, they had been forced to move to a new, more remote location as advancing human civilization encroached on them, and they had begun calling each new city Feithera rather than try to figure out new names for their civilization. Feitheran technology had always been more advanced than human technology, and the current stagnation of science and technology in the Utopian States of America had allowed the city and nation to remain in one place undetected for the last two-hundred years.
The current location was in a vast cavern in northern Greenland, partially natural though mostly carved from living rock by Feitheran digging machines. The cavern had been enlarged continually since they had first set up their city, and by now a Feitheran could fly away from the center of the city in any direction for almost an hour without reaching the wall. A holographic sky and an artificial sun and moon completed the outdoor illusion. There was even weather.
The boom tube opened into a public park in the Feitheran central city at three A.M. local time. Feitherans had been magically evolved from a diurnal breed of hunting falcons in ancient Egypt, and as a result they were almost always inactive at night. They were exceedingly paranoid about any nocturnal activity in the city, and the Legionnaires needed to be up and away before one of the automated night patrols spotted them. In the pre-mission planning sessions, Greenfire had argued that he could easily disable a bunch of robots, but Canary had sarcastically reminded him that they were trying to keep their visit a secret.
Before the two had departed Knight Base for their mission, they had worked with Theresa Knight and Randall Tyler to build Greenfire a special feathered containment suit so that he could pass for a Feitheran unless someone asked him to prove his identity. Additionally, the new suit concealed the bright green glow that surrounded Greenfire whenever he used his power. So for the first time since his accident, he would be anonymous.
The two feathered fliers took to the air and headed out of town at Hawk Lad’s top speed. Fifteen minutes later, they had reached a region where the cavern floor was still natural rather than being shaped by the Feitheran digging machines. Horus landed beside a jumbled pile of boulders ranging from about the size of a bowling ball up to the size of a locomotive. They hadn’t talked much during the flight, but Drake spoke up now.
“We did a really good job on this bird suit! It’s a lot more comfortable than my regular suit. I’ll have to do an upgrade when we get back!” He glanced at Horus. “So we’re going to hide in a rock pile, eh? Couldn’t you come up with something more comfortable than that? Not that creature comforts mean much to me…”
“Wait and see,” was all the answer his companion would give.
Horus landed and led Greenfire on a torturous path through the immense pile of boulders. The path twisted and turned; in some places they actually had to pull or push each other in order to squeeze through a tight spot, and twice they had to slither on their stomachs.
“I thought you birds were all claustrophobic,” Drake commented during one easy stretch. “How did you ever find this place? And how’d you get past the tight spots yourself?”
Horus answered the last one first. “I first discovered this refuge seven years ago, when I was much smaller. My fellows are claustrophobic; I am probably the only Feitheran living who could pass through such tight spaces without panic. Part of the reason I found a refuge necessary is because I am so different from other Feitherans.”
They struggled through a particularly close opening and came out into a sort of room — a couple of the giant boulders were leaning together, and the area under them was relatively clear and flat. No human-sized being could possibly have reached this space by flying. Some smaller stones had been moved to make a chair and something like a table, and there was a circular fire pit in the middle of the room.
“Hey, not bad!” Greenfire admitted. “I can level the floor and make us some real furniture, and fill in some of the chinks, and it will be just like home — well, except no tunes or vidgames or sliding doors, or, well, you get the picture.” He ran down when he realized that Horus was ignoring him.
“I was always different from everyone around me,” Horus spoke softly, sadly, “so different, no one would be my friend. I often clashed with the elders and even more frequently with my peers. So I searched out a refuge. I was punished when I refused to mate with Deesee as the elders ordered. I tried to escape and flee, but I was captured and exiled from Feithera. If an exile dares return, he will be executed!”
“Wow, that’s pretty tough, Horus!” Drake was truly sympathetic — he had some understanding of what it was like to be forever exiled from his species. But he had never been good at expressing his emotions. “We’ll have to make sure you don’t get caught!”
“Perhaps it would be better to be dead,” Horus said very softly. But Greenfire overheard.
“Listen, feathers, if me and Rex and Theresa can put together a time machine, maybe we can find you a chi — uh, mate back in Feithera’s past.” He didn’t mention the time paradoxes this could cause. Horus cheered up considerably.
“Yes, that sounds like a good idea!”
The two did some housekeeping. Drake leveled the floor and, from the packs they had painstakingly dragged after them through the entrance maze, they pulled some outdoor gear. Drake didn’t need much, not even a bed, but they had a stove, enough food for Horus for several days, and a sleeping bag. They didn’t want to spend an hour a day entering and exiting their shelter, so Greenfire carved an large chimney, then cut a slab of rock to cover the new entrance. He could move it easily, but the Feitherans would have to explode it to get in that way.
They set up some sensitive electronic listening gear and spent a good part of the next day eavesdropping on their unwitting hosts. As far as Horus could tell from intercepted radio and 3V broadcasts, not much had changed since he had been exiled. Not that he had expected much change — Feithera was a very conservative society.
“The plan stands, then,” he said, talking it over with Greenfire that night. “We must seek the House of Thoth. We fly tonight!”
Thoth was the Egyptian god of time and magic, and the inventor of writing. If Feitheran science knew anything about time travel, the knowledge would be found in the House of Thoth. Horus had begun his education there, only to be rudely interrupted by his exile.
Shortly after dark, Greenfire and Hawk Lad left their improvised hideout. Hawk Lad flew toward the central city up high and at a leisurely pace. Greenfire flew at just below the speed of sound toward an area of the cavern far from the city and their hideout. When he finished his task, he planned to fly to the city and meet Hawk Lad for the next stage of their plan.
Greenfire carefully scouted his target area. He wasn’t going to take the chance of getting on Canary’s wrong side.
Assuming, of course, that she even has a right side! he thought humorously.
When he was sure his target area was totally uninhabited, Greenfire flashed here and there, setting up blocks of C40 plastic explosive. When he was satisfied that the explosion would be sufficient for their purposes, he flew several miles toward the central city and high up nearly to the roof, then sent the detonation signal. There was a satisfying explosion from the target area, and before the noise had died down, he was headed for the central city at just under the speed of sound. He couldn’t risk a sonic boom now.
Drake joined up with Horus just outside the city, and he was pleased to see a tremendous uproar. Lights were coming on all over, alarms were blaring, and winged figures filled the city airspace with chaos. He and Horus shouldn’t have any trouble blending in. Feitherans from all over the cavern were converging on the city, and the two of them just flew right in with all the others. In all the confusion, no one noticed when they entered the House of Thoth.
They flew down a corridor until Horus found a library entrance. He directed Greenfire into a study carrel, and then they ran into some bad luck. The instructors at the House of Thoth were not part of the militia, and their duty was to guard their students. Horus was surprised when an instructor entered the library — and the rarest kind of bad luck followed, as it was an instructor who recognized the exile.
“Horus!” the elder bird whistled in alarm. “You know the penalty of returning from exile!” He immediately pulled out a globlass gun — a non-lethal Feitheran device used to catch a foe by causing extreme vertigo — and blasted away. However, Hawk Lad had not been lazy over the last five years, and Legion training allowed him to dodge the blast. He dashed into a carrel, barely escaping a second blast, then flashed out again and charged the squawking, screaming instructor. This unnerved the bird-man, and he missed his next two shots.
The Legionnaire slammed into his opponent with great speed, and the two of them rolled back out into the corridor. The elder instructor’s screams and squawks were drawing a crowd. Suddenly, the Legionnaire realized he was facing overwhelming odds, and he attempted to escape, flying down the corridor toward the exit almost faster than the eye could follow.
Realizing that this was the exile Horus who, having returned from exile, was now the most dangerous criminal in the realm, his original discoverer switched his globlass from a mild vertigo setting to a much stronger stun setting and fired again. The Legionnaire had just made it out the exit to seeming freedom when the beam struck him from behind, and he seemingly exploded.
The central city of Feithera was in chaos. Most Feitherans didn’t operate efficiently at night, and having to respond to an emergency at night was particularly problematic. The explosion outside the city had been just the start.
The traitorous exile Horus had hacked into the citywide computer network from the House of Thoth before he’d seemingly been blown apart, and disasters were popping up throughout the city. All the computer-controlled doors in the city had locked shut, every public alarm was blaring, loudly and ceaselessly, all the lights in the city were flashing at random, and the ventilation systems were alternating between full intake and emergency exhaust, producing hazardous winds. Weather control was about to initiate a thunderstorm. Automated cargo carriers were flying random paths through the city, and only their collision-avoidance systems were preventing deadly accidents. And none of the electronic communications channels were working.
Horus had been grazed by the globlass beam, and he fell to the floor of the study carrel, barely able to crawl completely into the room thanks to extreme sensations of vertigo. There was more commotion outside in the library receding into the corridor, and then he heard an explosion. He triggered the control that slid the carrel door closed, and then slumped back to the floor, almost comatose.
Sometime later, as he gradually crept back toward full awareness, he realized that the computer terminal in the room was talking to him.
“Hey, feathers! Snap out of it!” It was Greenfire, of course. “C’mon, flyboy, our work here is done. It’s time to go home!”
In the background, even through the room’s soundproofing, he could hear alarms blaring and the screeching and squawking his kind made when they were frantic. He forced himself to sit up and looked around, still somewhat dazed. “What’s going on?”
“I am!” Burroughs sounded smugly satisfied. “Most fun I’ve had since before I got blown up the first time!” He could obviously see Hawk Lad shake his head in bewilderment, and for once he responded seriously to a question.
“OK, look, Feathers, let’s make this fast. One of your oh-so-peaceful brothers-in-feathers blasted me with one of those stunners. Didn’t bother me a bit, but I was still carrying a couple of bricks of C40. Totally vaporized the suit! Not a particle left to identify. Gotta love ol’ Randy’s hobbies.” He chuckled, a weird sound to hear coming from a computer terminal.
“Canary was right — I am pretty damn hard to kill!” he boasted. “Near’s I can figure, they thought I was you, and there ain’t enough left for them to discover any different. Anyway, I was a little worried — never tried existing as a free-floater for long before, so I went looking for a place to hang out. The computer system in the House of Thoth seemed like a good idea at the time — and the longer I’ve been in here, the better I like it! I found everything we came for.”
A small module slid out of a slot in the carrel’s computer. “Everything Feitheran science knows about time travel. And not a heck of a lot, if you ask me. Not near enough to risk our lives for… well, leastwise, your life.”
Horus took the module. He was still a little dazed, and Greenfire was still talking a mile a minute. “So, I’ve been stirring things up outside. A lot of fun, really. It’s amazing what you can do with computers, especially when you’re inside one of ’em!” This was a cheerful, chatty side of Drake Burroughs that none of his Legion teammates had ever seen. “We could fly out of here wearing signs like here I am, arrest me! right now, and nobody would notice. Well, you could, anyway. No place to hang a sign on me.”
“Please slow down, Drake!” Horus pleaded. “My head aches!” He thought for a moment. “How will you leave?”
“Good question. I suppose I could just float away, but I’m afraid I might have trouble keeping myself together. I’m searching for something like that now.” There was a long pause. “Say, feathers, what do you know about your parents?”
Hawk Lad was startled by the change in subject. “I am an orphan, raised from the egg by a foster family. Why do you need to know?”
“I think I found the perfect containment vessel. And I think you’ll be surprised by what else I found,” Drake responded with seriousness.
“Tell me!” It was a clear command; Horus was completely recovered, and he was getting impatient with his hyper companion.
“Better to show you. I need you to go to this place.” A map popped up on one monitor, and several pictures of what appeared to be a standard Feitheran residence popped up on another. “Records say it’s the home of your real parents. And it’s been locked up since you were hatched. Apparently, your parents were exiled just as you were.”
“I have never seen this house before! Even with a map, I may have trouble finding it.” Horus didn’t respond to this revelation about his parents. Drake, with his computer-enhanced cognitive processes, realized that Horus must have figured out that last bit by himself long ago.
“No problem, feathers! Soon as you’re outside, a cargo carrier will fly towards you — follow it closely, and it will take you right to your door!”
“And the night patrol?” Hawk Lad asked.
“I think they’re otherwise occupied,” Burroughs responded with a laugh.
The door to the carrel slid open, and Horus made his way to the exit. He saw no one along the way, though there were pounding noises that indicated there were some unhappy Feitherans behind some of the locked doors he passed. He took to the air, but if it weren’t for the cargo carrier leading him, he probably wouldn’t have been able to fly. The unpredictable winds were bad enough, but the randomly flashing lights of the city made him dizzy, and the blaring sirens and alarms made it difficult even to think. He flew close enough to the carrier to almost touch it and looked only at it, and even then, he barely made it without being sick. He was the only bird in the air.
He shot through an open door, which slid shut and blocked out the chaos. He would never have believed how dangerous to his people sound and light could be. No one had ever used them as weapons against Feithera before. He hoped no one ever would again.
“Drake, can you hear me?” he moaned as soon as the door shut.
“Right here, partner! Welcome home! Glad you could make it!”
“Yes, it does smell right. I may never know my parents, but thanks to you I at least have their scent to remember.”
“You mean you can still smell them after seventeen years? Yuck! And here I always thought birds had a bad sense of smell! Anyways, de nada!” Horus couldn’t remember Burroughs ever saying anything pleasant before. He was really enjoying his stint as the central computer of Feithera.
Another module slid out of the computer console in the apartment. “Here’s your family history. And in the safe–“ A door swung open in the wall. “–there’s some souvenirs!”
“How do you know all this?” Horus demanded.
“Your parents made a private video for you and stored it here. This computer was supposed to notify you on your sixteenth birthday. But you weren’t here.” Horus was barely listening as he slowly pulled a metal strongbox out of the safe. There was a line of digital displays across the front.
“Here’s the combination!” Drake encouraged his teammate by displaying a series of symbols on the computer screen. Horus knew how to work this type of lock and quickly opened the box.
There were only a few items inside, but one immediately drew his attention. “What’s this?” He held up a ring, and the setting was shaped like a green lantern.
“That’s my ride outta here!” Drake shouted. “That’s Green Lantern’s power ring!”