A Beautiful Friendship — Snippet 09


The weather satellites said the Harrington freehold was in for a night of thunder, lightning, rain, and violent wind, and cold or not Stephanie intended to savor it to the full. She’d always liked thunderstorms. She knew some kids were frightened by them, but Stephanie thought that was stupid. She had no intention of running out into the storm with a lightning rod — or, for that matter, standing under a tree — but the spectacle of all that fire and electricity crashing about the sky was simply too exhilarating and wonderful to miss . . . and this would be the first thunderstorm she’d seen in over a T-year.


Not that she’d mentioned her plans for the night to her parents. She figured there was an almost even chance they would have agreed to let her stay up to enjoy the storm, but she knew they would have insisted she watch it from inside. Thoughts of fireplace-popped popcorn and the hot chocolate Mom would undoubtedly have added to the experience had been tempting, but a little further thought had dissuaded her. Popcorn and hot chocolate were nice, but the only proper way to enjoy her first storm in so long was from out in the middle of it where she could feel and taste its power, and they weren’t very likely to think that was a good idea.


And, of course, there was that other little matter.


She smiled in the dark and patted the camera in its case on her hip as thunder growled louder and lightning lashed the mountaintops to the west. She knew her mother had trolled the disappearing celery mystery in front of her as a distraction, but that hadn’t made the puzzle any less fascinating. She didn’t really expect to be the one to solve it, yet she could have fun trying. And if it just happened that she did find the answer, well, she was sure she could accept the credit somehow.


Her smile curled up in urchin glee at the thought, but she hadn’t made her mother privy to every facet of her plan. Part of that was to avoid embarrassment if it didn’t work, but most of it came from the simple knowledge that her parents wouldn’t approve of her . . . hands-on approach. Fortunately, knowing what they would have said — had the occasion arisen — was quite different from actually hearing them say it when the occasion hadn’t arisen, which was why she’d carefully avoided bringing the matter up at all.


She shoved the folded rain hat into her pocket, climbed up onto the deep, stone windowsill, swung her legs out, and sat there for a moment longer, feeling the wind whipping through her short, curly hair. She knew her mom expected her to be monitoring her carefully placed sensor net from her bedroom terminal, and she had a pretty shrewd notion that her parents Would Not Be Amused if they happened to wander into her room for some reason and she wasn’t in it. She’d thought about stuffing pillows under her blankets just in case, but she’d decided against it. First, it wouldn’t have fooled either of them. Second, they would be certain to notice the rope she’d anchored to the frame of her bed before dropping its free end out the window, anyway. But, third, it would have been cheating. It was one thing to set out on an adventure of which they might not approve; it was quite another to try to trick them into thinking she hadn’t if they figured it out fair and square, and Stephanie didn’t cheat. Of course, that didn’t mean it wouldn’t work out a lot better for all concerned if they didn’t wander in. . . .


She twisted around to kneel on the window sill (which was more than half as deep as she was tall) while she tugged the casement closed. She couldn’t close it all the way because of her climbing rope, but that was good. It would keep the window from closing and latching behind her, with her still outside, and she carefully hooked the length of cord she’d run from the window frame through the latching bracket. She pulled it taut and tied it to keep the window from slamming back and forth in the wind if the storm got as lively as it looked like getting, and tested it to make it was secure.


It was, so she slid down on her stomach, letting her legs dangle toward the ground, then lowered herself down to arms’ length, and dropped the last half meter or so to the ground. She stood for a moment, looking back up, and gave the rope a tug to make sure it was still secure. Getting back into her bedroom unobserved was going to be trickier than getting out had been, but she felt confident she’d manage.


The wind roar in the massive crown oak closest to the house was louder than ever, with mighty branches creaking and swaying in the darkness far overhead or etched against the eye-blinding flash of lightning with almost painful clarity. All of Sphinx seemed to be alive, moving and swaying and lashing in the night, and she laughed in sheer delight as she scampered through the roaring, whispering prelude of a thunderstorm orchestra tuning its instruments.


*     *     *


Climbs Quickly clung to his pad while the net-wood’s groaning branches lashed the night as if to protest the wind that roared among them. The rumbling thunder had drawn closer, barking more and more loudly, and lightning forks had begun to play about the mountain heads to the east. The storm was going to be even more powerful than he’d thought, and he smelled cold, wet rain on its breath. It would be here soon, he thought. Very soon, which meant it was time.


He climbed down the trunk more slowly and cautiously than was his wont, for he felt the sturdy tree quivering and shivering under his claws. It took him much longer than usual to reach the ground, and he paused — still a half-dozen People-lengths up the tree — to survey his surroundings. The People were quick and agile anywhere, but true safety lay in their ability to scamper up into places where things like death fangs couldn’t follow. Unfortunately, Climbs Quickly’s plans required him to venture into an area without handy net-woods, and while it was unlikely to hold any death fangs, either, he saw no harm in double-checking to be certain of that.


But scan the night though he might, he detected no dangers other than those of the weather itself, and he dropped the last distance to the ground. The mud, he noted, had begun to dry — on the top at least — but the rain would change that. He felt the faint, pounding vibration of rain drops through the ground, coming steadily nearer, and his ears flattened in resignation. If the reports about cluster stalk proved true, getting soaked would be small enough cost for this evening’s excursion. That didn’t mean he would enjoy it, though, and he flitted his tail and scurried quickly towards the nearest plant place.


*     *     *


Stephanie dipped into the stash she’d brought along and extracted a fruit bar. She might be willing to give up popcorn and hot chocolate, but she was still a growing girl with the Meyerdahl first wave’s genetic modifications. That kind of accelerated metabolism had to be stoked regularly, and most Meyerdahl kids routinely packed along munchies for moments like this.


She settled back in her chair in the gazebo, camera in her lap, and her mind ran back over her checklist as she began to chew.


She’d been careful to leave the ventilation louvers open on the greenhouse which contained her mother’s celery. In addition, she’d adjusted the greenhouse ventilation system to produce a slight overpressure, pushing whatever scent the celery might have out those open louvers. Her parents had known about that part of her plan, but somehow she hadn’t gotten around to mentioning the fact that for tonight she’d disabled the audible alarm on her bedroom terminal and set up a silent relay from her sensor net to her camera, instead. Mom and Dad were smart enough to have guessed why she might have done that if they’d known about it, but since they hadn’t specifically asked, she hadn’t had to tell them. And that meant they hadn’t gotten around to forbidding her to lurk in the gazebo tonight, which was certainly the most satisfactory outcome for all concerned.