UHS: Excerpts from the Diary of Vanessa Eaglefeather

Steven Bergom

The following is an excerpt from the diary of Vanessa Eaglefeather, student at the University for Human Study, located on the Myrtraal primary of Mnalik'tor. Ms. Eaglefeather has graciously leant her writings for the sole purpose of the study of the physical transformations imposed by the Myrtraal on said students. Reprint of this material in any way, shape or form is denied without the express permission of the authors of the study.

Vanessa Eaglefeather is a member of the diminishing Navajo tribe in North America, specifically areas encompassing New Mexico and Arizona. She arrived at the University for Human Study (UHS) for the last semester 2416. Her legs were modified to a digitigrade structure while her muscles and skeleton were lightened and strengthened. At the introduction to the diary entries she has had extensive work performed to her back. She is majoring in Environmental Mechanics with a special interest in terraforming.

January 20, 2418

Dear Diary,

I had that dream again last night, only it was strangely different. It's nothing I can really pin down — well, actually, I can pin it down, some of it — because it's more of a feeling of being different. It started out the same as before: I was climbing one of the sandstone cliffs in the Painted Desert of northern New Mexico. I don't know how long I climbed, but it was for a real long time, but I wasn't tired. I finally reached the top of the cliff and there I saw Grandfather, sitting cross-legged and staring at the sun. What's weird is that the top of the cliff is actually a mesa and there's just enough room for two people, me and him. I sit next to him — No, that's not right. This is the thing that's different: When I was climbing the cliff I was me, the me before I met the Myrtraal. On the mesa, I'm me now, I mean, I've got the weird feet and legs that make me look like a bird, where before I was the first me.

Anyway, I crouch, next to Grandfather and start talking. I don't know what about because it just sounds like I'm yapping. Grandfather doesn't move. Somehow I know he's listening but doesn't respond to anything I say. Finally he points at something that the setting sun obscures but I know that it's an eagle. "Look at him; he hunts," Grandfather says.

"He's not gonna' find much," I respond.

"And why not?"

I shrug. "'Cause it's a desert. There isn't much in the desert to eat."

"So young and already you know more than one who has made a living in the place she scoffs! When you look at the night sky what do you see?"

Feeling a little ashamed after his rebuke I answer, "Stars."

"Do you see all of the stars?"

"No. The atmosphere blocks some of the light."

"If you can get out of the atmosphere, in a spaceship, can you see all of the stars then?"

"No," I say. Even though I've had this dream a thousand times, I still can't see where his line of questioning is going. "The very distant stars are still hard to see."

Grandfather nods. "And so it is for the eagle. The eagle's empty stomach tells him that there probably isn't much to hunt but if he just stays in his nest he will starve to death. Instead, he leaps off the precipice to get a better look. He may not see everything but if he didn't jump, he wouldn't see anything." Now this is where the dream starts getting really different. Grandfather suddenly looks intently at the black speck that's supposed to be the eagle and points and says, "Look!"

I look but I can't see anything different. When I say so, Grandfather urges me to look closer so I get up and move to the edge of the mesa. I still don't see anything out of the ordinary. "You need to get closer," he says.

"The only way I can get closer is to fly out to him."

Gradfather looks at me like what I said should be the easiest thing in the world. "Then jump!"

"But I don't have any wings…" I say but when I turn around, Grandfather has disappeared but I can still hear his voice. "Hurry and jump!" his voice echoes. "Before it's too late!"

I want to ask him, "Too late for what?" but without warning the mesa lurches. It throws me off and as I fall through the air I can only think, "If I only had wings…"

Okay, so it's not a whole lot different, but the fact that I'm not how I always thought I looked in my dreams scares me: is my body now so comfortable that I can't dream anything else?

I used to think that the dream meant that I was supposed to go with the Myrtraal to study. You know, especially the way Grandfather mentions taking a spaceship out of the Earth's atmosphere to see more. But now I don't know. I wish Grandfather were still alive. He always knew what to tell me.

January 24, 2418

Dear Diary,

It was so funny today! Kevin Meechum's been walking around for the past five months with that exo-skeleton thing on him. Well, last night or something it got removed and so now he's walking around without it on. Only, because he's so used to it that he's walking all careful around the place, thinking he's going to topple over or something! And get this: because he's being extra cautious, he trips over someones foot in the cafeteria and spills his lunch all over himself! He looked sooo funny with the bowl of pudding landing on his head and spaghetti all over his face.

I shouldn't laugh so much at Kevin. He's a real nice guy and he works so hard to help us when we have trouble. Thom's the same way but Kevin just lends a hand, doesn't ask us if we need it. Thom makes us ask for help. Kevin's so easy-going, and so is our RA, but with Thom, there's a wall that he won't let us see behind. Now, I'm not the psychologist, but I'm almost certain that that's not a good thing, nes pas?

Anyway, Francine, Jake and I got a new project and it's sooo cool. Instead of studying Earth plants like we did last semester, we're analyzing data from one of the probes that the Myrtraal sent out when they were looking for habitable worlds. They didn't look too closely because there isn't much water on it. It's got huge mountains and rocky deserts and the huge ice caps whip up some nasty storms in the summer months. Oh, well, this should look interesting. For some reason it reminds me a little bit of home.

Tomorrow we're gonna' start mapping out the tectonic plates. Boring stuff but we got a lot of data to go through. Maybe it'll get more exciting before the semester is out.

Anyway, classes are fine — boring as usual but fine. I already got a paper to write that's due in two weeks. "Silicate Analogues to Amino Acids". Doesn't that sound like fun? I'll be spending a lot of time in the library the next few days.

January 25, 2418

Dear Diary,

Ugh!!! Damn tail!! I got it caught in a door, again, and it hurt for the rest of the day. I swear I have that thing bruised up and down but I can't see it because this stupid back brace won't let me turn my head around! Sometimes I just want to scream!!!!!

Jerry volunteered to massage my tail but knowing him he'd think my saying yes would be an invitation to sex. There's no way that I'm letting that s-o-b come anywhere near me. If it were someone like Phil or Kevin offering… I don't know. Even then I wouldn't let them. It would like letting them grope my breasts, not that I have much. Phil has bigger tits than me and sometimes I get so jealous of him. Maybe the Myrtraal would be open to a suggestion…

Oh, well. Nothing ever goes the way that you think it will. You can only hope that some day you can get a hold of your life, rather than your life getting a hold of you.

January 30, 2418

Dear Diary,

The dream changed again. Everything is the same until when I'm standing at the edge of the mesa and I look back at Grandfather. This time my vision was blocked by my wings, but I can't really see my wings. You know what I mean: I can see them, but I can't tell if they have feathers like an eagle's or like a bat's or what. I only know that they are there. I still fell when the mesa crumbled 'cause I didn't know how to move my wings.

If I wasn't scared before, I'm scared now.

February 2, 2418

Dear Diary,

I feel so sorry for some of the new kids that come here. For the first month after they arrive they're in a kind of shock, walking around like they're dreaming all this. Suddenly they realize that they got into something and that there's no way they can get out of it. You can see it in their eyes, too. It's not pretty.

Today one of the new guys was sitting by himself at breakfast just staring at his food. When he looked up his eyes were wide, like a horse that's been spooked. It wasn't long when he jumped up hyperventilating, screaming incoherently. A couple of what I assume were his friends tried to calm him down but he just ended up curling up into a little ball and wimpering. A few peeople stopped to watch but mostly we just went back to our own meals, ignoring everything. We'd seen it before. Not often, but enough times not to think it something special.

Sometimes it's so easy just to do like that new student and curl up into a little ball and let the world pass us by. You don't get anywhere, but it's a whole lot safer.

I guess we're all scared about we're gonna become, and we're afraid that we'll lose all sense of who we are when our faces are gone. Some of us — actually, a lot of us  — got Lindsey on the second floor to draw us when we were still only slightly modified. Sometimes I think that that was a bad thing, a reminder of what we can't be anymore. It's like being photographed when you're a kid: You're never a child anymore, and you can never go back to that innocence. I keep my picture in a folder in my desk and try not to look at it too often. Right now I have her doing a pastel drawing of Grandfather. If I have to remember my life the way it used to be, then I want him to be the reminder. Never a chief of the tribe, but a great man never-the-less.

More news on the project: We've tentatively called the planet Palo Verde — literally "green stick" in Spanish — because of one of the plants we saw in the surveys looks like the palo verde tree in Arizona. I wanted to call it Sonora but Jake said that maybe if we give it the right name we'll get a whole bunch of settlers, like the way Greenland was. I turned, looked at Jake and said, "You ain't no Lief Erikson!" We laughed — because he definitely isn't what with the way Myrtraal are making him look like a donkey — but I was out-voted on the name. Oh, well; you can't win them all.

The more I look at the surveys of Palo Verde, the more I'd love to go and explore it. Yeah, there isn't much life there, but Grandfather would take me out camping in the desert when I was little and he showed me how to survive. I think I'd do pretty well there. Sigh. Maybe someday…

February 4, 2418

Dear Diary,

Every time I close my eyes to sleep I have that dream, and most of the time the dream just skips to the end part where I hear Grandfather telling me to jump and I'm falling. I have it several times a night. I almost asked Kevin to sleep with me — not to make out or anything, just to hold me and make the dreams go away.

February 20, 2418

Dear Diary,

You won't believe it! Well, actually, you should with all that's been happening around here with everyone getting changed into something else. I guess I'll start with this morning.

So I woke up this morning sleeping on my stomach. This isn't anything unusual because that's the only position I've been able to find comfortable since the Myrtraal added that damnable tail and worked over my back. Anyway I wake up and I have that groggy feeling I get after I've been under the knife. I push myself up but my arms don't have enough strength to push up and I think that maybe it's 'cause I've got a new back-brace interfering with my shoulders. Boy, was I right! I finally pushed myself up and backed off the bed, but when I got to the edge I kinda overbalanced and fell off. When I hit the ground, something else hit the ground with me.

At first I thought that a blanket had come off the bed and covered me but when I tried to push it off I got some weird sensations up and down my back. I was shocked and sat up but when I did something whacked my desk and I felt a knife being shoved into my shoulder. After a while I moved around a little more carefully. Pushing a chair over to my dresser I kinda hand-walked up it so I could see into the mirror there.

I have wings!

They're not big angel wings. They're more like what you see on a pterodactyl, except I still have my arms, too. I tried to reach back and touch one but because they were so heavy and my arms were already shaky so I fell and when I hit the ground one of my wing-spars got trapped under my shoulder and 'cause I couldn't move it hurt. I screamed for a long time, cursing and swearing, but then I felt someone touching me, lifting me. It was Kevin. He was walking past when he heard me and knocked on the door. When I didn't answer he came in anyway and saw me lying there so he decided to help. When he realized that I was still naked (for some reason the Myrtraal didn't put me in those darn teddy-bear pajamas) he blushed and stammered and apologized over and over. I couldn't help but laugh and wipe at the tears on my face. He started to go but I made him stop, falling over in the process. I hated to admit it, but I needed help just getting dressed!

He was very considerate. I was pretty much incapacitated with my huge wings so Kevin needed to do everything for me, including slipping on my underpants! I would have been so embarassed if Kevin hadn't been beet red the whole time. He's just so cute that way. My shirt would have been a problem except for the fact that I've taken to wearing halter-tops for the past couple of weeks. They're much easier to fasten over the back brace I've been wearing, and they're much easier to put on around these new wings of mine.

Anyway, I was still on my hands and knees from the weight of the wings so once again Kevin-to-the-rescue grabbed onto my back brace (The Myrtraal thoughtfully provided me with a new one that supports the big bones. I have to take Kevin's word for it, though, since I can't turn my head far enough around to see!) and pulled me upright, holding on so I could waddle out the door.

After a bunch of bumps, bruises and scrapes — and some of them on Kevin! -- we made it to the elevator where we had to wait a long time for one to be empty enough that I could get on. In that time I learned just how annoying being tall can be. I spent most of my life being short, about 145 cm but my wings reach up to about 200 cm, or just around Kevin's chin. But I was kinda' hunched over when we were figuring this out so more than likely they stand up higher.

We made it to the cafeteria, again Kevin taking hold of my brace and walking me along. I felt like a dog being led on a leash! I vowed that I would never go through that again, especially when Jerry started making fun of me, calling me 'Bird-dog'. I just told him to watch it 'cause I'm going to practice my aim and when I fly over him I'm going to drop a load on him like a real bird. He didn't believe me, but that's his mistake.

I didn't realize how tiring moving around would be. It's like wearing a backpack full of lead, but you can't take it off at the end of the day. After breakfast Kevin helped me back to my room (at the expense of him being late for lecture, what a dear!) and here I am now, laying on my bed playing hooky. I should probably study since I missed like ten days of class. Eleven, if you count today.

February 20, 2418 — (later)

Dear Diary,

I know I don't usuaully write in here more than once a day but it's getting late and I'm kinda' nervous about sleeping. I don't think I'll roll over and hurt myself: there's no chance of that! No, I'm afraid of my dreams. You don't really dream when the Myrtraal are doing their things to you so it's been almost two weeks since I had that dream. Last time, I had wings in the dream, but I couldn't see them and I couldn't fly when I fell off of the mesa. I've really got wings now. Will I be able to save myself this time?