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Authors: A. C. Crispin,Kathleen O'Malley

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Silent Dances

BOOK: Silent Dances
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Silent Dances (Starbridge #2)

Kathleen O'Malley

A. C. Crispin

Acknowledgments

Silent Dances
had many midwives attending its parturition and delivery, all

of whom deserve thanks. This is only a partial
list:

My collaborator, A.C. Crispin-our long-standing friend ship was only

enhanced by our partnership in writing this book, Ann. Thanks for believing

in me and keeping me on course.

My friend, cowriter, editor, proofreader, partner, and com puter consultant

Anne Moroz-who became, during the final stages of this book, chief cook,

bottle-washer, landscaper, and animal caretaker. Now, you can finish your

own
book!

For their continuing support and encouragement through the years and

especially with this project, I'd like to thank my mother, Evelyn Benecke, my

father, Al Benecke, my brother, Alfred Benecke, and Teresa Bigbee and her

family, who've been more than a family to me.

My friend Holley Stepp made significant contributions to

Silent Dances,
as did the many Deaf students and sign language

teachers and interpreters at Gallaudet
University, and else
whe
re. You

introduced
me to the fascinating
world of Deaf

v

vi

vi ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
cultu
re
and
helped
shape
the characters an
d
events
of this book. I hope you
will be as
happy with
it as I am.

I want to thank my readers and critics Debby
Marshall,
Martha Midgett, and

J. M. Dillard. Your insights and encour
agement
were invaluable. A big hug

and lots of thanks to
golubchik
Jeanne Dillard, for extra help with foreign

names and phrases
and long
-
dist
an
ce
pep talks.

For help with the scientific and technical aspects of this book I have to thank

Drs. Josh Dein, Glenn Olsen, George Gee, and Mr. Roddy Gabel of the

Patuxent Wildlife Research Center for
their continuing
interest, advice, and

support. Special thanks go to Dr. David Ellis of the PWRC, for his invaluable

infor
mation on
raptor behavior and prehistoric avians; to Dr. Hodos of the

University of Maryland for his
help in avian
opthal mology; and Dr. Yoji

Kondo of NASA for his ability to set the universe right. Special thanks must

also go to Dr. James W. Carpenter whose interest in this project never

wavered and whose constant nudging pushed this project along
in its

earliest
days. (It's finished, Dr. C., it's really finished!)

To the many characters at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center-animal

caretakers, wildlife technicians, veterinary
technicians
, and biologists-with

whom I've had the pleasure to work with over these past years and who

helped fill these
pages
with insight, humor, and personality-you know who

you are. Thanks, guys,
and I
'
ll be in on time
on Monday!

To Harlan Ellison, for all his kindness through the years. I did what you said,

Harlan
. I wrote what I know.

And, most important, though they will never read this, or even know of it, I

must thank the whooping cranes of the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center-

especially the individuals that have meant the most to me: Canus, Lazarus,

Faith, Jack, and Blue 52. Without their beauty, their strong personalities,
and

the haunting
power of their call, this world would be an empty place.

Anyone interested
in lea
rn
ing
more about cranes, one of the most

endangered families of birds in the world, can write to the U. S. Fish and

Wildlife Service, Washington, D. C., or to
the Inte
rn
ational
Crane

Foundation, E-11376 Shady Lane Road, Baraboo, Wisconsin, 53913.

-Kathleen O'Malley, December 1989

vii

This book is lovingly dedicated to the person who inspired me to write

by entertaining me for hours with her own tales my mother,
Evelyn

Benecke.

You bought me my first typewriter, Mom, and my first word processor.

I only hope that someday

I'll be as good a storytell
er as you.

-K. O'Malley

viii

ix

x

SItENTDANffS

xi

1

Prologue

Scott Hedford opened his eyes and checked the time. Fifteen
minutes to

daybreak. He called to his partner and grabbed for his clothes. He couldn'
t

miss sun
ri
se!

A yellow
sun stood
at the heart of this crowded solar system that included
a

monstrous gas giant planet
four times the size of Jupiter, plus a red dwarf

star in its
outermost reaches. From the surface of the living world the

humans called Trinity, the
giant planet
and the red dwarf shone so brilliantly

they were visible even in full daylight. The astronomical configurations of

what appeared to be three suns had, for centuries, shaped the beliefs of the

planet's people and, Scott knew, today was of special importance. The three

"
suns"
would rise in a tri
angle
. Scott couldn't miss sunrise today.

His partner, Margaritka Tretiak, scrambled around just as eagerly. The gray-

haired xenobiologist was almost seventy, but could outrun him, outclimb

him, and, in the rush to see sunrise, outdress him. She was already out of

their shelter while he was still hopping around on one foot pulling on his

other boot.

Silently they left their spacious shelter and walked the

2

hundred meters to the end of the overhanging bluff. There was litt
le

evidence of l
as
t night
'
s fierce elect
ri
cal storm
.
Camped on this small
hill, they had an excellent view of the freshwater wetlands extending to

the ho
ri
zon.

At the cliff edge,
the biologists viewed the expansive marsh
.
The

vegetation w
as
a collage of b
ri
lliant Ea
rt
hautumn hues, colors T
ri
nity kept year-round
.
The wildlife and native people were all still

sleeping
.
Usually, none of them woke until all the suns were well up.

The red dwarf peeped over the western
ho
ri
zon, since T
ri
nity rotated
opposite to the direction that Ea
rt
h did. The huge
,
white, cranelike
people the humans called the Grus could be seen sleeping in scattered

groups either in the water or on the small islands they built out of

rushes and grass
,
their black-beaked heads tucked beneath their

winglike arms
.
The Grus were beautiful to watch
,
especially when they
danced.

The second sun, the yellow star the Grus called the "
Father Sun," rose to
the
ri
ght of the apex star
.
The sky faded from dark blue
-
black to a
startling lavender. Soon it would be
an
intense blue
.
Sco
tt
stared
,
not
with the cool detachment of a biologist
,
but with the unabashed

wonder of a tou
ri
st.

The man start
ed as a rousette whistled in sh
ri
ll wa
rn
ing.
What
'
s
he
scared of at this hour
?
Sco
tt
wondered
,
glancing une
as
ily around
.
The
re
d
,
fox-sized flying mammal should be sleeping in its burrow.

The call came again,
piercing
,
ter
ri
fied. The third "sun," the gas giant
planet that appeared as a small
,
brilliant star, w
as
now visible
,
but
Scott barely noticed.

Something'
s wrong
,
Sco
tt
thought
,
just as a monstrous winged
shadow sailed over the humans
-
a shadow that w
as
bound to wake

the sensitive Grus at
an
y moment
.
And when they woke ...

"My God!"
Meg gasped.

It's an Aquila!
Sco
tt
realized
.
What's it doing here,
why is
it flying
now?

The biologist fumbled at his belt where his sound nul ifier should have been,

but it wasn
'
t there.
Meg doesn't
have
hers, either
,
he remembered with a
stab of dismay
.
I was working on them last night
-
I left them on the
workbench!

With a muttered curse he grabbed Meg's arm. "Never mind the Aquila!
The

nullifiers are in the shelter on the workbench. We've got to have them!

Run!"

3

SILENT DANCES 3 They began sprinting toward the shelter, Meg quickly

out

distancing
the younger man. The Aquila circled closer to the Grus' village.

Then Scott saw another, and another, high in the atmosphere, winging in

from their dark forests to the west. With their bronze-colored bodies and

contrasting gold heads and tails, the Aquila bore an uncanny resemblance

to the eagles that had once been the symbol of an OldAm nation.

The big predators' sudden, unusual behavior made Scott wonder again

whether they might be intelligent. The Grus claimed that the Aquila were

nothing more than savage predators, their enemies. But why would the

Aquila use the extra energy for flap-flying when they could wait until later in

the day and glide on the thermals as they usually did? Were they just flying

by on their way to distant hunting grounds, or were they deliberately trying to

surprise the Grus before they woke? And why were these normally solitary

hunters suddenly mass
ing in such numbers?

Hoping he was wrong, that the Aquila wouldn't breach the invisible

boundary that would cause the Grus sentries to sound an alarm, Scott

wished now that he'd had more time to study the films from his hidden

cameras.

Ten strides ahead of him, Meg dived into the shelter.

He'd just reached the door when she burst back out, the nullifiers in her

hands. "Put it on! Cover your ears!" he yelled-then the preliminary humming

shook his entire body.
Oh, God, no!
He clapped his palms over his ears.

The sound shattered the still morning air, ripping through him like a physical

blow. Again and again the cry rang out as the sentries sent their warning to

the flock.

The frequency and volume of that call struck the humans' unshielded ears,

doubling them over with pain. The tiny, delicate headpieces went flying from

Meg's hands as she fell forward. Both humans' eardrums burst and the pain

of those alien voices drove Scott to his knees in agony.

Lucky Meg,
he thought, seeing that his friend lay unconscious. Retching,

hands shaking, he scrabbled frantically through the dense rust-colored

ground cover that had swallowed the dropped nullifiers. He grabbed one

headpiece, but it was cracked-useless, he thought despairingly.
Where's the

other? Oh, God, the pain
... He was crawling now, facing the end of the bluff

and the still beautiful sunrise, now forgotten. Despite his suffering, he forced

himself to search.

4

As his fingers fumbled over the precious instrument, the
gig
an
tic
, terrifying shape of an Aquila came winging up over the bluff. The enormous bird

loomed before him, its ruby-red eyes staring straight at Scott, its great wings

straining for altitude-
its talons
gripping a struggling young Grus.

The white avian met the biologist's eyes. Recognition stabbed through Scott,

almost eclipsing his physical pain.
NO!
his mind screamed.
Not my friend-

not Water Dancer!
The golden eyes of the avian were dimming, and in

BOOK: Silent Dances
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