Over 7200 total words. A writing exercise, he said. Not that long, he said. Good Lord; the plot hasn’t even shown up yet!
I laughed when they showed me the incident with Tommy!
They’d wandered around inside for about twenty minutes. The owner, a human male, maybe thirty, she guessed, sat in the back listening to a radio. Some sort of piano music. The used clothes were on the walls on the back and left of the store.
“Where do these new clothes come from?” Akaiame whispered.
“I guess he gets them at the weekly trade fair,” Snaran matched her tone, not understanding why.
“Later. Are you gonna get something or not?”
Akaiame hauled several panties, some camisoles, a couple of shirts, and a skirt to the desk. The man glanced up from the book he was reading.
“That’s a lot,” he said. “You must be the new Feather we heard about, at the ‘Factory?”
“Yes,” she nearly hissed. “I didn’t know hatchlings were news!”
That surprised him. She heard Snaran mutter something.
“Well… actually, they are.” He wrote out what she’d wanted and showed her the total. “May I see your book?”
“Here!” Snaran leaned around her, putting what looked like leather notebook onto the counter. There were gold letters on the front she couldn’t read.
“What’s it say…?” She wondered. She watched the man pick it up.
“Ah…kai…ah…meh. Is that correct?” He asked. “It’s blank? Of course it is: you just got here! I’ll just enter this as a debit and you and the Federation can settle up later, okay?”
Akaiame had no idea what he was talking about. Her friend seemed to think everything was normal, so she just nodded. He handed her the book. Not knowing what to do, she passed it back to Snaran.
He was about to fold her purchases and put them into a bag when he paused.
“As… a welcome gift from the town, how about,” he picked up some clothing shears, “A special service?”
Still lost, she could only look to Snaran who nodded.
“Great! If you’d turn around and relax your wings – ”
“What about my wings?!” She was already self-conscious.
“If I don’t know their size and shape, I can’t modify the backs of the shirts you just bought.”
Oh. That was reasonable. She was getting tired of keeping then down for all this time. With a sigh she let them come up and out…
“Wow! Look at those!”
Her hands balled into fists, but she was able to not turn and punch him.
The modifications were complete in only another quarter hour. He excused himself into his storeroom in the back while she changed.
“Pretty!” Snaran cried. “Let’s go show Nike!”
She stuffed her old shift into the bag with the rest of the clothes. The owner came back just as they exited the front door.
“Come again!” He called.
They walked south. Akaiame wasn’t sure why, but it seemed as if the sun was further along than it should be. Something else she didn’t understand.
“It was nice of him,” she waved over her shoulders.
“Mmm! Oh! That reminds me! Another rule!”
“These rules are starting to piss me – ”
“We can only accept gifts freely given! Nothing tit-for-tat!”
“Why?” She stopped. “Why all these rules?!”
“Akaiame.” Snaran had her rare serious face on. “You’re uptight about your wings so you’ve missed the obvious: the townspeople, the humans, are very protective of us. It would be a disaster if we started acting like parasites!”
Yes, she had missed that. Most of the eyes were curious, but caring. The misunderstanding was hers. She started walking again.
“Sorry; got it.”
They passed a group of teen boys hanging out under a fruit tree.
“Look at the size of those things on that chick!” A boy yelled. “They’re huge!”
The two other boys snickered.
Snaran whirled about with her hands on her hips.
“Tommy! That was rude!” She said. “Apologize!”
“It’s not rude, it’s true!” He countered. “And I’m Tom, now! I help my Dad at the mill! I’m not a little boy!”
“If you think for…what?” Snaran paused as Akaiame moved passed her, touching her arm as she did. She walked until only a foot separate her from the boy. Who was, admittedly, just a fraction taller than she was.
“You want to see them, Tom?” She purred.
“Woah! Go for it!” His mates cried.
“You bet! Let me – ”
She bowed quickly as her wings rushed over her head catching the boy on either side of his with a loud *slap!* He fell backwards, windmilling his arms to no avail, landing heavily on his butt in the dirt.
No one moved.
“Remember, Tommy,” she turned around, her wings up proudly, “that you just got knocked down by a week-old girl! See you!”
She could not look at Snaran as she passed her: she would have burst out laughing. They’d just made it to the plaza when they could no longer contain themselves. The townspeople there didn’t understand what was so funny, but those two Charcoal Feathers were almost crying and could only stand by holding onto one another.
“That… that was so funny!” Snaran dissolved into another fit of laughter. After wiping at their eyes, they were able to resume their walk south.
At the opposite end of the plaza, the clock tower chimed behind them. Akaiame spared it a glance over her shoulder and froze. It was three hours earlier then when they first passed it.
What is this place?
They continued south on the road with the building growing fewer and further apart. Passing a bakery on their right, Akaiame was mortified to hear her stomach give a huge growl.
“Someone’s hungry!” her young friend laughed at her.
Snaran indicated the building that looked like a fine, older home, coming up on the left, was the café Nike managed. A few humans were out on the wraparound porch, eating and drinking. Her friend stopped her with a touch.
“The crossroads, just ahead,” she waved, “is the center of this place. The Wall making pretty much a circle around us. From the crossroads, if you go left, you’re in the farms.”
“If you go right,” she pointed, “it’s up into the hills. Where the Federation and their temple are.”
Still no clue, but she kept her mouth shut.
“Straight ahead takes you past the wind turbines to Old Home, the other nest. Just as ‘Factory is mostly boys, they’re mostly girls, and about a dozen little one.”
“You mean, small kids, like us?”
A Nod. Was that all?
“And,” guess not, “west of Old Home is the woods. In there…”
She trailed off. Akaiame wondered why her wings drooped just a little.
“Hello!” Akaiame’s wings quivered to hear his call from the veranda. She turned to see him dressed like a formal waiter. Just one with grey wings and a gold halo. “Nice clothes, Akaiame! You two look energetic; did something good happen?”
The eastern sky was red; it was time to go. It was then that Nike chose to drop into the chair next to Snaran, across from Akaiame.
“You’ve learned a lot today!” He took a drink from the blonde girl’s glass of juice.
He ignored her.
“Yeah.” She drank some of her own. “Don’t like all these rules…”
“Wait until the Federation summons you!” He laughed.
“Sooner or later, every Charcoal Feather gets an interview!”
“Not sure, really,” Nike said, leaning back. The chairs for their kind had very low backs. “Sometimes I wonder if they do it out of boredom.”
The red in the east was now purple. Snaran yawned; Nike stood.
“Shortest way back is due east, but I imagine you’d rather not swim the river in the clothes you’d just bought!” He shifted his arm left. “So, northeast, to the bridge.”
The girls stood. Snaran yawned again.
“Nike?” Akaiame asked.
“Those boys in town… is there any crime here?”
He paused. Was that a ‘yes?’
“Not,” he began, “like what you’re thinking. Some petty theft amongst the humans; and they and we both lose our tempers from time to time. But otherwise, no.”
She and her friend had just made it down the steps to the grass that surrounded the café.
“Akaiame?” Nike called.
“Never go near the Wall.”
They walked northeast.