UHS: With Wings I Can Fly

Steven Bergom

Vanessa Eaglefeather grumbled as the computer screamed at her to wake up. The control panel was across the room making it necessary to leave the comfort of her bed and walking to the desk to turn it off. Of course, she needed to get out of bed safely first, which was not to be that morning.

It was all the bedsheet's fault; if it hadn't tangled her wings Vanessa might have been able to make it out of bed with more grace than she showed. Instead she was sent sprawling, narrowly missing hitting her head on the dresser and giving the Myrtraal something else to fix. For all the pain and heartache they put the students of the University for Human Study through they'd probably enjoy poking and prodding at her more than they had scheduled. With a thankful sigh she noted that she wasn't in any way damaged and began the tedious work of unwrapping the sheet from her wing.

With that complete Vanessa pushed herself unsteadily to her feet and made it to her desk where she banged her fist on the computer console to silence the annoying alarm. "Finally!" she whispered, stretching to work out kinks that sleep left her with. She started with her neck, rolling her head and working downward. Leaning on the back of a chair to balance herself she also stretched her wings, one at a time for at full extension the span was slightly larger than what the dorm room could accomodate. "Computer," she commanded when she was done. "What is my schedule for today?"

"Today is Thursday," the computer responded in a soothing, female voice, "a rest day. There are no activities scheduled for today."

She stared at the terminal with incomprehension. If it was a rest day, why had she set the alarm? She never set the alarm when she could sleep in; it was almost sacriligious! Turning slowly to collect her thoughts Vanessa's eyes fell upon the picture of her grandfather.

Lindsey made it. It was an incredible likeness which Vanessa almost burst into tears over the first time she saw it. Somehow Lindsey, who often downplayed her skills, was able to capture the slight lift of the chin and almost imperceptible smile that spoke of a pride in who he was and in his granddaughter, who was now the last living member of their tribe. What caught her attention, though, was his eyes, crisp and distinct, staring out at some unimaginable goal.

"I remember now," she told the picture. Standing erect she extended her wings as far as the room would allow and announced, "Today is the day I fly!"

"That's sick!" Kara exclaimed as she dumped her meal refuse in the bin. "That's sick, gross, disgusting, perverted and just… just sick!"

Kevin quickly followed Kara out of the cafeteria. "I don't know what you're so angry about, Kara. You're the one who asked me to help with you're anger management!"

"Yeah, but I didn't think you'd recommend… that!"

Leaving the assorted conversations behind them Kevin steered his partner toward quiet place where they could talk uninterrupted. "Okay, let me ask you a question: Did the Myrtraal give you a penis?"

Kara looked everywhere but at Kevin's eyes. It was an easy matter to avoid his face because Kevin stood at almost two and a half meters, but then her gaze landed on his chest, reminding her of how she beat him bloody. She had been in her room, angry at how the Myrtraal sliced into and rearranged her face. Kevin, hearing the commotion in her room, investigated and she ended taking her aggression out on him, rupturing the two stubs just beneath his arms. She was not proud of what she did; Kevin was only trying to help her, just as he was trying to help her now.

"Kara," he said, breaking her out of her reverie. "Do you or do you not—"

"Yes, Kevin, I do!" she shouted, her consternation evident. "I've got a dick and a vagina!"

Noting the stares the couple suddenly earned Kevin dragged Kara into a nearby alcove. "I know you didn't mean for everyone to hear that last statement, did you, Kara?" With acute embarassment she sucked in her breath and began to itch furiously at her arms. A few days before hair began to grow along her arms and face leaving her looking somewhat like a pie-bald cat and far more irritable than normal. "I take that as a 'no', then.

"Let me ask you something else: when was the last time you looked at the report on your transformation progress? Hmm? I can tell by your silence that it's been a long time, if at all."

"But that's not going to tell me what the Myrtraal are doing to me—"

"No," Kevin interrupted, "but it's going to tell you where you've been, and where you are now. Kara, you can't be afraid of yourself, which is your problem: you don't know know who you are. Don't be afraid to touch — and use — those parts of yourself that you suddenly find yourself with."

"And so that's why you told me to masturbate! And here I thought you only did it because you get some kind of kick out of telling a girl she really needs to jack off!" Kevin blushed and by his response Kara knew that she struck on one of his ulterior motives for making the recommendation he did.

"Well, that was one of the reasons," he was finally able to stutter out. "The other was I got to thinking about sports. Do you know what coaches tell their players the day before a big game?"

"I don't know," Kara shrugged. "Get a good night's rest?"

"And to refrain from — shall we call them — conjugal relations. Do you know why? So they have an edge; they end up keeping a large amount of testosterone and adrenaline coursing through their systems."

Kara mulled this over and eventually came to the conclusion that Kevin was aiming for. "So what you're saying," she said slowly, "is that I—"

"Have a massive case of blue balls. Exactly!"

In any other situation that statement would have sent Kara running for the nearest civil servant to report Kevin of gross sexual harrassment. In this context, however, there was probably more than a grain of truth to the reality he put forward. With the Myrtraal it was not so ridiculous a reality; the outbursts of extreme anger that Kara suffered from may just be exacerbated — if not caused — by an overabundance of hormones more euphemistically called 'blue balls'. Coupled with a uniquely feminine condition that caused husbands and boyfriends to find the nearest pub once a month she wondered how anyone managed to survive around her. "Since you seem to be the expert, here, do you have any pointers for the uninitiated?" she asked dryly.

"No," Kevin said while trying to hold back a smirk, "but you probably will when you start out!"

She wanted to hit him so much. There was nothing more that she wanted in the whole world but she knew that he knew he could get away with it because the Myrtraal specifically forbade further damage to his torso. Suddenly Kara realized something. "Kevin, dear," she asked sweetly. "How are your legs?"

"Fine. Why?" he asked but before he could puzzle it out Kevin was clutching at his right knee.

While Kara watched Kevin vigorously massaging at what would probably become a bruise a young student whose hairless skin had a tendency to cycle between green, blue and brown stopped by their alcove. "Hi, Ryan!" Kevin greeted. "What's up?"

"Have either of you seen Thom?" he asked a little breathlessly.

"I think he said something about working in the library today," Kara answered. "What do you need him for?"

"It's Vanessa. She's on the catwalks above the track."

Kevin straightened and looked at Ryan quizzically. "What's she doing there?"

"We think she's going to jump," Ryan said simply and, with a quick thanks turned and jogged off in the direction of the library.

Kara and Kevin looked at each other mirroring the other's worried expression before and turning to sprint in the direction of the huge indoor field.

Vanessa paused in her climb. When she and her grandfather had gone hiking through the peaks and valleys of New Mexico she would scamper fearlessly up the sides of cliffs in a path that often covered three and four times as much ground as her grandfather's more sedate path. "Gecko," he'd laughingly call her, but she would only hear it as an echo off the walls of the canyon as she climbed ahead. It was that boundless energy that she counted on to get her up the ladder to the catwalks but she hadn't figured on her wings dragging so heavily on her arms.

A rattle beneath her caused her to look down over the twenty meters she had already climbed. Several students managed to reach the foot of the ladder and were trying to open the cage that kept the ladder safe from casual climbers. Vanessa, however, had procured a key and carefully maneuvered the cage door shut with her tail after she climbed past it. Smiling at her forethought she ignored the shouting of her peers and continued up toward the catwalk.

After carefully twisting and squeezing Vanessa made it wings and all through the portal in the catwalk and lay gasping on the cool, plastic surface. She would rest, she told herself, for a while; the climb was far more strenuous than she had planned and she would need her strength for what she had to do. Not too long, she told herself, as she hazarded a glance down the ladder, or they will make it up here and stop me. Taking a deep breath she got to her feet and cautiously made her way down the catwalk.

Kevin and Kara arrived at the track to find a crowd milling about, excitedly pointing up at the catwalks. Quickly they found Vanessa amidst the ceiling beams and another figure crouched beside her. "Can you see who that is?" Kevin asked.

"It's Jenny," came a voice in Kara's stead. The pair turned to find LaShawn Andrews, a dark-skinned young man who, with his shirt on, looked untouched by the skill of the Myrtraal. After greeting each other LaShawn filled them in on the events of the afternoon. "I was jogging when I saw Jenny sprint across the field to the ladder over there," he said indicating a service ladder at the edge of the field. "I thought it was kind of funny until I saw Van up there."

"What's she doing?"

LaShawn shrugged. "What do you think? She's going to see if those wings work."

Kara blinked for a moment, stunned at the simplicity of the statement. "How do you know she's not just trying to get a better look of the track, or maybe Vanessa's looking for a nice, quiet place?"

"She told me. Last week I was telling her how I finished reading a paper on Freudian dream analysis when she asks me to analyze a recurring dream she's been having. Something about being at the top of a mountain with her grandfather and then she starts falling."

"Well, what did you tell her?"

"I told her she was lucky her grandfather wasn't smoking a cigar."

Resisting the urge to throttle him Kara bared her rather sharp teeth and directed her energy to scratching at her arms. "You're a lot of help, LaShawn!"

"Children!" Kevin interrupted. "Stop fighting!" He ignored most of their discussion and was staring thoughtfully up at the ceiling. "How much would you say Vanessa weighs, Kara?"

She wanted to rip a hole in Kevin's arm; here was one of their friends in serious danger and he was wonder about that friend's weight! She almost berated him for his habit of asking women questions that should never be answered when the look he gave her knocked the snarl off her face. "Uh, about forty kilos, before the wings, that is," she said instead.

"And her wings are about four meters." Kevin nodded and closed his eyes in concentration. "I hate working with guesstimates," he muttered at one point. "What's the gravity currently set at, LaShawn?"

"Point nine five gees," he said. "And in half an hour it goes to one point three."

With a curse Kevin began looking around. Finding what he was looking for he took Kara's shoulders and pointed her in the direction of the control room. "I need you to set the gravity plates to a lower setting—"

"Excuse me," LaShawn interrupted, "but how's that going to stop her? If Van decides to jump, she's going to hit the ground sooner or later."

Kevin turned an angry glare at LaShawn, knocking him back with its intensity. "There are four things that determine whether she flies with any control: weight, velocity, surface area of the wings and the angle a wing is at," Kevin explained very calmly. "I can't change the surface area, there's no way her velocity is going to be all that controllable and I highly doubt she'll be in any position to listen to me shouting about angle of attack. The only thing I have any remote control over is the force of gravity on her body; hopefully then there'll be enough lift to keep her aloft long enough not to cause too much injury when she lands! Got it?" The two nodded their heads and with a shove from Kevin Kara quickly left for the control room he indicated earlier.

"You're coming with me," Kevin said and dragged him to the front of the crowd. There he found Phil in his jogging shorts and sports bra with the rest of the gawkers. He started to explain his plan when a gasp from the crowd brought his attention back to Vanessa.

She was hanging onto the railing forty meters above them. Whether it was an aborted jump attempt or problems in climbing over the rail Kevin didn't know but he was satisfied that an uncontrolled fall was avoided. Silently he encouraged Kara to hurry with the gravity plating.

The crowd watched anxiously as Vanessa scrambled back to a safe position on her perch. Jenny continued to try and convice Vanessa to stop her foolishness and try something easier but it was apparent that the winged girl was focused on the task before her. She had turned around so that her back was facing the railing and her tail was curled against a vertical post. Involuntarily her knees and ankles tensed preparing for the final step.

Years later every student in the crowd could recite with explicit detail the events of Vanessa's jump. Holding her wings high above the railing she slid foreward, hanging onto the metal by only eight fingertips. Her tail gently uncurled from its grasp of the support. Taking a deep breath Vanessa flexed her legs one last time and pushed off, sending her two meters from the catwalk. With her arms and body stretched out she began to fall.

Her giant, bat-like wings snapped up, unable to support her for very long as she fell one, then two, meters. Someone in the audience screamed, though no one — even the screamer — knew who it was, so intent were they on the sylph-like girl, and Vanessa fell six and seven meters. Meters twelve and thirteen passed and she pitched foreward, aiming at the ground head-first. At nineteen and twenty meters the spectators thought that their hopeless wishing had suddenly made them all able to float, though they knew it could not be possible. When Vanessa came upon twenty-four meters Kevin thought he saw her wings — which by this time were spread back out to her sides — begin to catch at the air. Finally at twenty-seven meters she began to level off and at thirty she was flying in the direction she originally intended.

A cheer went up. Kevin caught himself from joining in the spontaneous celebration and instead tugged LaShawn and Phil behind him as he raced after Vanessa. "She's still falling too fast," he said, trying to sustain his run in the reduced gravity. "I want the two of you to get under her wings when she comes down."

"And do what?" Phil asked.

"Keep her from fouling her wings! I doubt it's all that pleasant to have one of those broken!"

Quickly the trio positioned themselves under the gliding girl. Vanessa looked down. "Kevin!" she shouted. "I don't know how to land!"

"That's what we're here for," Kevin yelled up, trying to keep an eye on where he was running as well as staying just underneath his friend. "Just see if you can get over me!" Extending his arms he made himself into a three meter, mobile mooring tower. Vanessa's feet and tail dangled behind her as she strove to reach his hands.

Their fingers touched twice. Stealing a glance ahead of him Kevin noted that they were quickly running out of room as the as the end of the field loomed before them. Stubbornly the air held Vanessa just far enough aloft that he couldn't catch her so he chanced a small jump and clasped her wrists.

Vanessa squeaked when Kevin grabbed her but he continued running, steadying her and pulling her down. Phil and LaShawn held their position to either side of him and held their arms up, ready to prevent her wings from invountarily digging into the turf when she eventually came down. With a tug Kevin grasped her upper arms and she was able to reach his shoulders with her feet. Unfortunately this flared her wings and pulled her anchor skyward momentarily.

How he was able to keep his balance Kevin never figured out. It was only with supreme effort that he held onto her arms and keep from stumbling. Of course, once much of their foreward momentum was lost Vanessa lost her ability for flight and she settled heavily onto Kevin. With the sudden weight on his back he crashed to the ground, gritting his teeth when his knees hit the turf. Out of the corner of his eye he watched Phil and LaShawn backpedal and quickly hold Vanessa's wingtips up.

A dull ache spread through his sides as Kevin realized that he was no longer upright. Vanessa panted heavily in his ear and he struggled to turn his to see if she was all right. "Vanessa?" he said. "Miss Eaglefeather! Are you okay?" He listened to her pants for a while and realized that she was quietly laughing.

"Did you see that?" Vanessa whispered excitedly, wincing occasionaly as Phil and LaShawn moved her strained wings. "I really can fly!"

By the time Kara left the control booth and started walking towards the crash site the Myrtraal had arrived and were tending to the various injuries. Vanessa was on a specially designed stretcher that held her on her stomach and supported her wings. A dozen of the eggplant-shaped, grey aliens hovered over her, touching, poking and prodding and generally scanning her before they transported her to their hidden operating theaters to disect her. As disturbing as being taken in the middle of the night, unconcious, was Kara trembled at the thought of someone actually seeing the inner sanctum of their deviltry.

She glanced away and found Kevin with his own pair of Myrtraal making a fuss over him. He was much too tall for the short beings to easily examine so he was seated, arms stretched out and resting on his knees so that they could run their scanners over the stubs on the sides of his chest. Occasionally they put their electronic devices down and leaned their 'heads' in close, only to pull back and make notes on their data pads. "Please do not be further injuring yourself," the one was telling Kevin as Kara approached. "It would be unseemly for our timetables to be interrupted."

Kevin affected a faux stunned look at the Myrtaal's pronouncement. "Why, my dear doctor," he exclaimed. "Does this mean I should be expecting a nocturnal visit from you in the near future?"

The Myrtraal remained silent but Kara chuckled. "Well, Kevin, I guess there goes a couple dozen nights of good worry about when you will be next taken!" She pulled up next to him and laid a hand on his shoulder. "How're you holding up?"

"A little sore, but nothing I haven't handled before," Kevin answered looking up into her eyes.

Kara released the breath she didn't realize she was holding. For a moment she teetered on leaning down the short distance to his face but shook her head and ended up ruffling his hair instead. "That's good to hear," she said.

They stared at each other for a while before the Myrtraal nearest them broke the silence. "Miss Marks," it began, "that was very smart of you to lower the gravity, and the gravitational control systems were not designed to be easily circumvented."

"Thank you," she answered, "but don't look at me. Kevin's the one that was giving orders; I just did what he told me to do."

Though the Myrtraal didn't turn around its attention shifted to Kevin's long frame. The little alien consider him for a moment and then raised itself up, baring its belly to Kevin. Over time the students learned that this gesture was meant as a sign of respect, akin to the a human bowing its head. Kevin nodded his acceptance and the Myrtraal left them to escort Vanessa to the infirmary.

"What was that all about?" Kara asked.

"Haven't a clue." Standing up Kevin pulled his shirt back over his head, wincing when the occasional muscle protested a movement. "Of course, we're probably never going to find out, either."

"Speaking of finding things out, Kevin, why'd Vanessa do it?"

"You mean jump?" Kevin shrugged. "Curiosity, most likely. She finds she has wings and before long she has to start wondering if those wings work. Heck, I bet more than half the students here had that very same thought."

"But to jump almost fifty meters…"

"You've got to swallow your fear at some time, Kara. Sure, it probably wasn't the sanest thing to do, but birds do it to their chicks all the time. It's like I said earlier: you can't be afraid of yourself.

"Look at Phil over there," he said pointing out Phil who was conversing with Tracy and Therese, his twin vixen girlfriends. "When he came to this moon he was a normal, athletic young man. Now he's looking forward to spending the rest of his life being called 'Ma'am' by the uninformed. This wouldn't be too bad except for the fact that there are still many cultures — and sub-cultures, even — that consider women to be sub-human. It would have been insanely easy for him to just curl up in a ball and never leave his room ever again. By several reports that's what he almost did, but eventually he confronted his fears of what he was and moved on with his life.

"LaShawn here has gills. Right, LaShawn?" The young man nodded and Kevin continued without slowing. "When he first woke up with his new breathing apparatus I bet he was terrified about that first trip underwater to see how well they worked. Now he's down at the pool every morning, because he conquered his fear and moved on."

Kara watched LaShawn curiously while Kevin spoke. His smile was tight and slid off the moment Kevin turned his head. The feline-faced girl wanted to ask what he was thinking but Kevin had continued talking. "If that doesn't convince you, look at it this way: Vanessa and LaShawn both had very dangerous way of facing their fears. If LaShawn was wrong, he could have drowned. And Vanessa… I think that's a little self-explanatory. You only have to do some exploration, and nothing bad can come out of a little self love!"

Kevin's conclusion was more than a little surreal and left Kara and LaShawn more than a little uncomfortable. While they looked around to make sure that no one else was near enough to hear what they were talking about Kevin paused to consider his own statement. "Actually," he said after a while, "I think I know of one possible downside to my suggestion."

"Oh?" Kara asked, lightly scratching at the back of her hand. "What would that be?"

"Hairy palms."

Kara turned Kevin's simple declaration over in her mouth several times before the meaning sunk in. When she turned to confront Kevin she found that he had anticipated her reaction and run off, leaving her to stare in frustration as his long legs propelled him further and further away. Eventually the comedy of the situation caught up with her brain and she hung her head and chuckled. "Hairy palms, indeed!" With a sigh she set after her tormentor at a much more sedate pace.

She knew she would get him; it was only a matter of time, but she would catch him.