Read Flight Online

Authors: Neil Hetzner

Tags: #mystery, #flying, #danger, #teen, #global warming, #secrets, #eternal life, #wings, #dystopian

Flight

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FLIGHT

 

Neil Hetzner

 

 

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Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2010 Neil Hetzner

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In
Flight
I have tried to imgine how
technology, culture and language as well as the geography of the
world will have changed by the end of this century. Yet, while I
can only guess at how the physical world will be different, I can
be sure the emotional world of humans will remain the same.

 

PROLOGUE

What’s Past…Isn’t.

The road south from Muyinga, weaving through
the mountains of Burundi in East Africa like a mud and gravel
stream, was more suited for intrepid goats than the battered
truclet negotiating its challenges, but Nora Elieson had driven
that twisting, never-repaired, vertiginous track so often she could
keep most of her mind free to think about guinea fowl.

A half-century before, in another, far
different life, the octogenarian had been very well-regarded and
very well paid for her thinking, especially the kind of thinking
that could solve a problem by leaping over it. Now, once again,
from that place of creation that had always been a mystery to her,
had come a thought for how to increase the guinea fowl harvest in
the villages she had just visited. To keep the thought coming, one
deeply tanned hand left the steering wheel and began tugging at the
snarl of short gray hair that covered her head. Although she was
excited, the fugitive scientist knew she must be careful not to be
too clever. Being too clever had cost her that previous privileged
life.

It was not cleverness, but a tempered love
that had given Nora Elieson her current life. Hanging around a
coffee urn at a small New Africa conference, Nora had met Beryl
Langue. Langue was a Global Nations’ agronomist who had spent
twenty years in Fifth World Africa improving sorghum harvests by
altering both the genetics of the plant and the agricultural
techniques and habits of those who grew it. That GN work had had
small infrequent rewards. It was not until after the age of sixty,
when Langue met Nora and they married, that both received rewards
greater than their ages and attitudes had allowed them to
imagine.

At his new wife’s insistence, Beryl Langue
had left the GN. Nora Elieson had money and an idea for mutating
guinea fowl so that a second, third, and fourth wing pair would
regenerate after harvesting. That idea took almost ten years to
become reality. Progress in science, or anything for that matter,
in Africa was a dispiriting slog; however when success finally
came, the couple felt the work and wait, and the inroads it had
made on Nora’s wealth, had been well worth it. To Nora Elieson’s
way of thinking, the work with the wings of a nearly brainless bird
was more important than the paradigm altering discoveries she had
made so many years before.

Three years after the breeder stock had been
distributed throughout the impoverished villages that clung to life
along the steep sides of the Rift, average daily protein
consumption had more than doubled. Long-boned, thin muscled
children stumbling along the red mud roads had become a less
frequent sight.

Being able to harvest two over-sized wings
every ten weeks meant that most villagers no longer needed to
slaughter their birds for meat. Harvesting the birds’ wings,
instead of slaughtering them, led to families having bigger flocks.
Since guinea fowl need little human assistance to thrive, families
were able to increase their protein calories at very little expense
in either time or energy. An unintended, but welcome, extremely
welcome, side effect was that the larger flocks were driving down
the insect population upon which they fed. Since many of those
insects were vectors for some of Africa’s most virulent diseases,
the villagers’ mortality rate, especially among infants, was
dropping. Nora thought that decreasing infant mortality was more
important than increasing life expectancy, something about which
she knew a great deal.

As she slung the Toymoto’s steering wheel
from side to side to avoid washouts and slurries left by the rains,
and compensate for its worn-out struts, Nora reluctantly considered
just how much longer the work she and Beryl were doing could stay
in the shadows.

After one hundred years of money and manpower
from the developed countries had been more than matched by a
century of corruption, new disease strains, and tribal and national
wars, the rest of the world had looked elsewhere than Africa to
ease its conscience and do its good. Poor, benighted Africa had
become even poorer, more benighted, forgotten Africa.

It was the latter, the forgotten aspect,
which first had attracted Nora Elieson. She had needed a place to
go to ground. Now, she sometimes worried that the benefits that she
had helped bring to the forgotten villagers in the forgotten
mountains in forgotten Burundi in forgotten East Africa would cause
someone somewhere, the wrong someone, to remember.

The eighty-nine year old woman with the
impatient eyes was nursing the dinged and dusty Toymoto through a
series of switchbacks forty kilometers north of Gitega when an
incongruous sound of civilization intruded. The pulsing of the
blades echoing against the steep rocky sides made it sound like a
swarm of rotos, rather than just one, was flying up the valley. The
sound, a low, slow thump, like clapping underwater, was not totally
unheard in Africa. With little infrastructure, but with plenty of
weapons and even more hate, rotos were the vehicle of choice for
getting those illogical few, who valued their lives but still came
to Africa, across her great distances.

Re-feathering. That was the idea Nora was
running through her aging but ample circuitry. Burundi had been wet
and hot for ages, but when the world began to warm, it had become
even hotter and wetter. That change in meteorological conditions
had caused certain species of flora and fauna to thrive and others
to wither. Guineas could tolerate a great deal of heat, but it took
a lot of calories to do so. Re-feathering could lead to both better
insulation and heat dissipation. If the feathers….

The thick foliage on the other side of the
Toymoto’s bug-spattered windshield first began to sway and then to
bow up and down in a way that reminded Nora of dancers at a harvest
ceremony. The thump of the roto, like the beat of a ceremonial
drum, quickened and grew louder, as it dropped down toward the
earth.

Rather than just noticing that a roto was
overhead, Nora, who had lived much longer than some wished, began
to pay close attention to it. She slowed down so that she could
divert some of her concentration from the winding, muck-wrecked
road to what was going on above the thick canopy that was
concealing her.

The machine darted, hovered, darted and
hovered in a way that reminded Nora of a humming bird before a
flowering trumpet vine.

Having no rational reason to think that she
was in danger, but having no reason to dismiss that she felt that
way, Nora turned off the truclet’s motor and coasted to a stop
under the green canopy.

The machine above quieted as if it were
listening before it zigged, jigged, zagged and sped off north,
back-tracking up the serpentine valley through which Nora had just
come.

Even after dismissing all of the adrenaline
coursing through her ropy body as mis-applied biochemistry, the old
woman waited another ten minutes more before starting on her way.
She told herself that when she got closer to Gitega she would try
to see if there was enough civilization in Burundi’s latest capital
to bounce a call to a former capital, Bujumbura, to ensure that
Beryl and their daughter, Prissi, were alright.

Less than an hour later, Nora made the call
and she found that everything at home was fine except that, after
her week’s absence, her husband and only child daughter greatly
missed her.

They missed Nora even more that afternoon
when she didn’t arrive when she should have. All through the night
as their patience grew thin and their panic grew deep, they missed
her even more. The next day they missed her twice more as they
drove up and down the road north of Gitega, but on the third time,
along with two retired muzungo mercenaries, they found the truclet
and those remnants of Nora Elieson that the jungle hadn’t
harvested.

The truclet had careened off the road in an
implausible place. Nora Elieson had come to her end crossing over a
ridge that offered a relatively dry smooth surface as well as a
tremendous view to the north of spiky mountains burdened in green,
like the mossy back of an alligator. To the west one could see the
deep shadowy Rift from which hominids first decided to leave their
trees. To the south was the badboard stew of slums and worse slums,
those canted shanty boxes which had replaced the hominids’ trees.
Just part of the splendor of Gitega, Burundi’s newest capital.
Further to the south, no larger than silver threads, one could see,
piecemeal, if enough tears could be blinked away, the twisting,
snaky waters of the Ruvyironza, source of the Nile.

When the police finally arrived, there was
less investigating than philosophizing as the two detectives, all
wrinkled khaki and sweat-smeared sunglasses, wondered whether it
was the distraction of ‘from whence we came’ or of ‘where we go’
that pulled Nora Elieson’s eyes from the road at the wrong
time.

Beryl Langue, remembering the phone call and
noticing the clean swept circle in what should have been a dusty
road, thought that the accident might have been something else.
Prissi Langue, the couple’s twelve year old daughter, despite being
warned to stay in the jeep, had been compelled to look when her
mother’s body was carried back up the gash made by the Toymoto’s
plunge. She was stunned by what the jungle had done to her
mother.

Despite being frightened and confused, Beryl
Langue, immediately upon his return to Bujumbura with his
devastated daughter, took action. The usually unassuming man called
in favors and insisted upon irregularities. After a hurried
funeral, more hurried packing, and within seventy-two hours of her
death, the remainder of Nora Elieson’s family was on a boat on Lake
Tanganyika crossing from Burundi to Congo. When Beryl Langue looked
back, the battered buildings of Bujumbura glinted in sunlight. When
he looked ahead, mist roiled from the lake. Beryl Langue thought
that captured things perfectly.

Despite what the police report and death
certificate said, Beryl Langue’s thinking atop the ridge was
correct. Ironically, the aged passenger in the roto who caused Nora
Elieson’s death, himself a man of great intelligence and greater
patience, lost what he, too, valued most.

It was those two losses, high above the
turbid life and death of Africa, a continent where a half-bowl of
millet could catalyze friend to foe, which gave birth to the
troubles would so threaten Prissi Langue three years later.

 

CHAPTER ONE

A Teacher Is The Best Experience

Prissi Langue, a fifteen-year old second year
Dutton School student, came stomping up the stairs from the Carver
Common Room. Prissi was stoking a hissy fit and enjoying every
molecule of the volatile chemistry jumping within her body. After a
late Thursday night marathon studying for a test in Chinese and
finishing a problem set for Fi-Sci II, she had bunked breakfast to
sleep late. When she woke, she was ravenous as only a
fifteen-year-old girl can be. There was nothing left in her
snack-cache but empty bags and boxes containing pitiful corners of
salty crumbs or sugary dust. It didn’t take a genius to know that
her roomie, Nasty Nancy Sloan, had been on a pillage again. To
silence the animal growling in her stomach, Prissi had run
downstairs to the Common Room to get a tofusicle from the
venderator, but when she had stepped on the biometric pad in front
of that glowing tabernacle to teener desire, it had beeped twice. A
single beep was a warning. Two beeps meant that the machine thought
that she was too fat. Two beeps meant the machine, regardless of
how much money was inserted as a bribe, wouldn’t open the little
tabernacle doors behind which a host of secular treasures could be
seen.

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