This book should be available now, so this is the last snippet.

A Beautiful Friendship — Snippet 19


*     *     *


Climbs Quickly winced as the two-leg’s peaking hurt clawed at him, yet he was vastly relieved to find it awake and aware. He smelled the bright, sharp scent of blood, and the two-leg’s arm was clearly broken. He had no idea how it had managed to get itself into such a predicament, but the bits and pieces strewn around and hanging from its harness straps were obviously the ruin of some sort of flying thing. The fragments didn’t look like the other flying things he’d seen, yet such it must have been for the two-leg to wind up stuck in the top of a tree this way.


He wished fervently that it could have found another place to crash. This clearing was a place of bad omen, shunned by all of the People. Once it had been the heart of the Sun Shadow Clan’s range, but the remnants of that clan had moved far, far away, trying to forget what had happened to it here, and Climbs Quickly would have much preferred not to come here himself.


But that was beside the point. He was here, and however little he might like this place, he knew the two-leg had to get down. The branch from which it hung was not only thrashing with the wind but trying to split off the tree — he knew it was, for he’d crossed the weakened spot to reach the two-leg. And that didn’t even consider the way green-needle trees attracted lightning. Yet he could see no way for a two-leg with a broken arm to climb like one of the People, and he was certainly too small to carry it!


Frustration bubbled in the back of his mind as he realized how little he could do, yet it never occurred to him not to try to help. This was one of “his” two-legs, and he knew that it was the link to him which had brought it here. There were far too many things happening for him to begin to understand them all, yet understanding was strangely unimportant. This, he realized with a dawning sense of wonder, wasn’t “one” of his two-legs after all; it was his two-leg. Whatever the link between them was, it reached out in both directions. They weren’t simply linked; they were bound to one another, and he could no more have abandoned this strange-looking, alien creature than he could have walked away from Sings Truly or Short Tail in time of need.


Yet what could he do? He leaned out from his perch, clinging to the tree’s deeply furrowed bark with hand-feet and one true-hand, prehensile tail curled tight around the branch, as he extended the other true-hand to stroke the two-leg’s cheek. He crooned to it, and he saw it blink. Then its hand came up — so much smaller than a full-grown two-leg’s, yet so much bigger than his own –and he arched his spine and crooned again — this time in pleasure — as the two-leg returned his caress.


*     *     *


Even in her pain and fear, Stephanie felt a sense of wonder—almost awe—as the treecat reached out to touch her face.


She’d seen the strong, curved claws the creature’s other hand had sunk into the near-pine’s bark, but the wiry fingers which touched her cheek were moth-wing gentle, claws retracted, and she pressed back against them. Then she reached out her own good hand, touching the rain soaked fur, stroking its spine as she would have stroked an Old Terran cat. The outer layer of that fur, she realized, was an efficient rain shedder. The layers under it were dry and fluffy, and the creature arched with a soft sound of pleasure as her fingers stroked it. She didn’t begin to understand what was happening, but she didn’t have to. She might not know exactly what the treecat was doing, yet she dimly sensed the way it was soothing her fear — even her pain — through that strange link they shared, and she clung to the comfort it offered.


But then it drew back, sitting higher on its four rear limbs. It cocked its head at her for a long moment while wind and rain howled about them, and then it raised one front paw — no, she reminded herself, one of its hands — and pointed downward.


That was the only possible way to describe its actions. It pointed downward, and even as it pointed it made a sharp, scolding sound whose meaning was unmistakable.


“I know I need to get down,” she told it in a hoarse, pain-shadowed voice. “In fact, I was working on it when you turned up. Just give me a minute, will you?”


*     *     *


Climbs Quickly’s ear shifted as the two-leg made noises at him.


For the first time, thanks to the link between them, he had proof the noises were actually meant to convey meaning, although just what their meaning might be was more than he could have said. While the two-leg’s emotions themselves were almost painfully sharp and clear at this short range, the echoes, the hints of meaning, which infused the emotions of any mind-glow were far too strange and unfamiliar for him to sort out any sort of specific meaning. Yet it was obvious the youngling was trying to communicate with him, and he felt a stab of pity for it and its fellows. Was that the only way they knew to communicate with one another? But however crude and imperfect the means might be compared to the manner in which the People spoke, at least he could now prove they did communicate. That should go a long way towards convincing the clan leaders the two-legs truly were People in their own fashion. And at least the noises the hurt youngling was making coupled with the taste of its mind-glow were proof it was still thinking. He felt strange surge of pride in the two-leg, comparing its reaction to how some of the People’s youngling’s might have reacted in its place, and bleeked at it again, more gently.


*     *     *


“I know, I know, I know!


Stephanie sighed and reached back to the counter-grav’s controls. She adjusted them carefully, then bit her lower lip as a ragged pulsation marred its smooth vibration.


She gave the rheostat one last, gentle twitch, feeling the pressure of the harness straps ease as her apparent weight was reduced to three or four kilos. But that was as far as it was going. She would have preferred an even lower level — had the unit been undamaged, she could have reduced her apparent weight all the way to zero or even a negative number, in which case she would actually have had to pull herself down against its lift. But the rheostat was all the way over now. It wouldn’t go any further . . . and the ragged pulsation served notice that the unit was likely to pack up any minute, even at its current setting.


Still, she told herself, doggedly trying to find a bright side, maybe it was just as well. Any lighter weight would have been dangerous in such a high wind, and getting her lightweight self smashed against a tree trunk or branch by a sudden gust would hardly do her broken arm any good.


“Well,” she said, looking back at the treecat. “Here goes.”


*     *     *


The two-leg looked at him, made another mouth noise, and then — to Climbs Quickly’s horror — it unlatched its harness with its good hand and let itself fall.


He reared up in protest, ears flattened, yet his horror vanished almost as quickly as it had come, for the youngling didn’t actually fall at all. Instead, its good hand flashed back out, catching hold of a dangling strip of its broken flying thing, and he blinked. That frayed strap looked too frail to support even his weight, yet it held the two-leg with ease, and the youngling slid slowly down it from the grip of that single hand.


*     *     *


The counter-grav’s harsh, warning buzz of imminent failure clawed at Stephanie’s ears.


She muttered a word she wasn’t supposed to know and slithered more quickly down the broken rigging stay. It was tempting to simply let herself fall, but any object fell at over thirteen meters per second in Sphinx’s gravity. She had no desire to hit the ground at that speed with an arm which was so badly broken, no matter how little she “weighed” at the moment of contact. Besides, although the stay’s torn anchorage would never have supported her normal weight, it was doing just fine with her current weight. All it had to do was hold for another minute or two and —


She was only two meters up when the counter-grav unit decided to fail. She cried out, clutching at the stay as her suddenly restored weight snatched at her, but it disintegrated in her grip. She plummeted to the ground, automatically tucking and rolling as her gym teacher had taught her, and she would have been fine if her arm hadn’t been broken.


But it was broken, and her scream was high and shrill as her rolling weight smashed down on it and the darkness claimed her.