Battle of Haibi Chapter 8

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Previous: Battle of Haibi Chapter 7:

Chapter 8: Not a Big Deal at All

That night, the bird sits calmly on its perch, sleeping on one foot. There is a clattering of the wire just beside it, and the bird's eyes open. The wall north of the aviary blocks the stars, quite an annoyance for birds who use them for navigation.

Another crow clings to the outside of the aviary, struggling to hang on with its talons.

Inside the aviary, the injured crow's lifted foot uncurls, and he sticks out his toes. Sometimes two, sometimes one, sometimes all, sometimes none. In the crow's own sign language, he has said, "Nick, how the heck are you supposed to communicate clinging to the wall like that?"

The struggling crow peeps. Then flies away. He returns a few minutes later to jam a twelve centimetre dry branch into the mesh, thus allowing him to free one foot to sign with. "How're you feeling Freddo?"

"What's it look like?" the injured bird signs with what could be corvus humor, "I'm glad I'm not dead. Does she look familiar?"

"No, not at all," Nick signs, "Roku's got the right hair color, but that's about it."

"Oh, well," the injured bird signs with a sigh, "I'll keep an eye open."

Nick notices that Freddo's foot is still raised.

"Ruby told Samurai before she flew. Samurai told Roku while they were hunting for the wraith in the Western Grove."

Nick angrily slams his wing into the wire. The other two crows peep at his rudeness. "That may have compromised us," Nick signs.

"That's why I jumped on the wraith to make his location obvious and thus wound up in here almost dead," Freddo signs, "You know they can't transmit while cloaked."

Nick is relieved, and puts so much weight on the branch that it slips from the wire. After ignominously flopping two feet down the side of the aviary, his wings bite the air and he lands a couple seconds after his branch does.

Freddo thinks that was funny as hell. The other two crows, unable to follow the conversation in the dark from several feet away (and not interested anyway), would disagree.

After flying back up and jabbing the branch through the wires a little more securely, a few inches away from his injured friend, Nick signs, "That explains the busted wing,"

"What busted wing? Nick, have you ever busted a carina?"

"Ouch," Nick winces, and adds a sighing huff of breath. The keelbone is the biggest bone in a bird.

"Just a crack," Freddo signs, "Tori probably hasn't noticed yet. Nothing he can do to help it anyway; it has to heal on its own." He switches feet, wincing as he shifts his weight, "Tori told Roku about us."

Nick huffs.

"Roku knew already, Tori might have assumed that she figured it out on her own," Freddo explains, "Like he did."

"I hope Tori's being careful with our secret," Nick signs, "He knows mostly because he is Ashfeather Bird, not because he's brilliant."

"And," Freddo cocks his head at an interesting angle, "he is brilliant. I've got a titanium wing now. Daddy, can I go supersonic?"

Nick twirls his head, tapping his beak playfully against the wire. "Enjoy your stay in Haibi, my friend," he signs.

"Enjoy your freedom," Freddo signs before conclusively curling up his toes and closing his eyes.

Nick flies away, carrying the branch away with him.

Tori pets a little sparrow perched on his finger. Shinzoo is watching how the boy cares for the birds. "God cares about you too," he says, "not one of you falls without him noticing." He glances into the aviary at a crow he may never learn has a name, "And you, Juurokuban, are worth more than many sparrows," he whispers. [Matthew 10:29, 31, he called the crow "Number Sixteen"]

The non-sentient sparrow seems to appreciate this remark.

Shinzoo comes in, curious. The sparrow seems startled and flies out the open door of Tori's lab. "Huh?" Shinzoo asks as it zips by, "Hagane told me only crows could fly."

"Only crows can fly over the wall," Tori clarifies. "These little fellas can't get above about five metres, and they don't even get as close to the wall as I'm allowed."

Shinzoo asks, "What's special about the crows?"

Tori huffs, "Couldn't tell ya. Legend has it that they carry things that we've lost from our previous lives. I don't know how they came up with that. Seems like a bunch of bunk if you ask me."

"I'm heading into town for supplies," Shinzoo smiles, "Turns out that I know how to drive a five-ton, although I was expecting it to be a lot noisier and keep shoving my left foot against the fender and reaching for a lever between the seats," he laughs, "I can't even remember what it's supposed to do."

"Manual shifting, I think," Tori says, "You can look it up at the library if you ever get bored."

"Need any knicknacks? Something to save you a special trip?" Shinzoo asks.

"Oh, please," Tori says, "PM on the north side, the hobby store. Probably out of your way." Tori offers him a bank note with the distinctive T-handle symbol of the Haibane Renmei. [Named for a real store in Calgary, on 16th Ave. near 19th Street NE.]

"What am I buying?" Shinzoo asks.

"Nothing," Tori says with a smile, "They'll give you bits of styrene sprue that I go there for. I use them for imping feathers, and poor Juuyonban over there," he points at the crow that's recovering from a burn, "needs quite a few."

"Flew too close to a chimney?" Shinzoo wonders playfully.

"I wouldn't know," Tori says, remembering where in Sector Three, just short of the restricted zone next to the wall, he found the hapless creature emanciated and barely clinging to life, where not one chimney could be found within two kilometres.

Tess, that is, crow number fourteen this year, remembers how, three nights before Tori found her, a group of drunken Imps started casually throwing fireballs at her while she was napping in a tree. As brilliant as he is, Tori can't tell the ladies from the men among the crows apart, which is unsurprising since, like haibane, they do not reproduce.

"Keep it," Shinzoo says, offering the money back.

Tori wraps Shinzoo's fingers around the bank note, "It's yours," he says, "If you're going to insist, go buy something for the birds. They are very easily amused," he says with an irony the crows can appreciate. Only three people in Haibi know how smart they are.

Shinzoo isn't one of them.

The other two discuss Haibi's troubling security situation as they march down a garden aisle in Defense Tower Four. "So how are we going to find them?" Samurai asks, "We can't rely on Willow Branch for all of them, especially if it gets hurt that badly."

"Willow Branch?" Kabocha asks.

"Classified," they answer in unison. They've realized just how close they came to blowing the crows' secret of brainpower to the enemy and codenamed their source of intelligence. <Intelligence.> Roku's soul laughs at the pun.

"Delta radiation?" Roku asks.

Samurai shakes his head, "Only carries for ten centimetres in air."

"Delta vector. Defense analysis has got to have some way of tracking the stuff if the wall can convert it from hundreds of metres away," Roku says.

"Not exactly, but good thinking," Samurai says.

"I," Roku bites her lips, "can recognize the shape of the tracks. If we dust and grade the Gate Squares during the lockout period when the Toga are entering, sentries trained to spot the tracks can sort them out from the Toga footprints, if they're trying to get in or out that way."

"We know they aren't simply climbing over the wall," Kabocha says, "since we've always had and maintained tripwire sensors below the railings."

"Barbed wires?" Roku asks.

"Laser sens-" he gasps, "Oh no, are they that invisible?"

Roku nods.

Kabocha turns to rush to his duties, but Samurai grabs his shoulder.

"Haibi may have been an open book for almost seventy-six years," Samurai says, "That we're about to change that may provoke a full scale assault."

Kabocha gasps, "You're not suggesting we don't-"

"Nothing of the sort," Samurai says, "Try to delay revealing that we're onto them for as long as you can, then, when you got your barbed wire ready for the whole wall, deploy it as quickly as possible. Give them as little warning as you can. A secret project, uh ... Nifty Jingles."

Samurai delays his departure again, "The whole wall, but make it look like it's just for Sector Four. I'll allocate other elements of this defense to the other sectors. Dismissed."

Kabocha takes off into a lift.

"Sentry training," Samurai reflects, "Will go to Sector Two." He then reflects, "This is the sort of thing that the Speaker might bring up at a meeting of the Haibane Renmei."

Roku looks worried.

"We can't have it come up until after we have it implemented," Samurai puts a hand on his protege's shoulder and says, "Can you work defense analysis, get Haibane Renmei members on side for keeping this secret, anyone who's submitted an-"

Samurai can see that Roku's terrified, but ready to follow the order if need be. "I'm no diplomat," she says.

"Quite right," Samurai whispers, then reaches over his shoulder to his phone control. "Hagane!!" he says cheerfully, "Can you meet me at Rony Toma's at three? Make it four? On me. Oh, no, not a big deal at all. ... Three it is then."

"Someone who works better with the civilians?" Roku inquires after the call is closed.

"Helps that he is one," Samurai explains, "He's a ... second level Health and Well Being representative, you saw him on Monday. You'll need to get into defense analysis to figure out the issues that have been submitted to the Speaker, he'll get them dropped. And..." he trails off. Finally he says, "With invisible wraiths running around all over town, it'll be too obvious if you two ever meet ... I'll ... figure out something."

Roku slips into the suit room, leans against the wall as though overwhelmed, and listens. She sighs, bracing herself against the wall, quietly slipping her plasma pistol out of its holster. "Oh, God," she sobs, squishing her eyes closed. Suicidal?

Beside her, the characteristic yellow swirl of a wraith materializing. Roku swings the pistol about, opens tearless eyes and shoots the almost formed wraith right in the head.

"Sucker," she snorts at the smoldering body as she reholsters her pistol. She triggers her phone, then says, "Hey, boss, found some hikarinium in Suit Room Four. Can you head over to Willow Branch and find out whether these suckers can transmit while cloaked? Oh, no, not a big deal at all."

Next: Battle of Haibi Chapter 9: 'Tis the Season

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