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Cheryl stood on the edge of the intermediate level launching platform, her heart racing. There were a few other flyers far below, almost ready to land. She took a deep breath and jumped.
She spread her arms as she fell, opening her wings. Her flight suit’s computer made minor adjustments in the shape of the translucent polymer. Soon she was floating nearly horizontally, drifting down in a slow, lazy spiral.
Through her tinted goggles the sea was almost purple, a deep velvet blanket sparkling with diamonds of sunlight. Cheryl lowered her arms. The flight suit responded to her movements smoothly, sending her into a graceful dive. Her wings cast muted rainbows on the ground as she swirled and looped.
A few minutes later the computer took full control of the flight suit, forcing her to land. Even with its help, Cheryl hit the beach with an awkward thump. Anton was quickly at her side, helping her to her feet.
“You flew well.” Anton had finished flying for the day some time ago. In his crisp white shirt and shorts, freshly shaved and bathed, his eyes hidden behind dark glasses, he could have been an advertisement for the resort. “I believe you are ready to join me in the advanced group.”
Cheryl pulled off her goggles. Sweat covered her face, stinging her eyes. “I’m not sure yet. I still get nervous every time I fly.”
Anton helped her out of the flight suit. “You should cool off. Go for a swim while I take these things back to the hotel.”
“Fine. I’ll meet you at the bar.” The sand burned her bare feet as she hurried away.
The warm air was full of the delicious scent of the sea. Cheryl felt overdressed in her one-piece bathing suit, compared to the nearly naked sun worshippers lying on the beach. With a laugh she ran into the water, amazed by the summer romance she was sharing with a charming and elegant man. Without Anton’s encouragement, she would have never dared to try flying.
Cheryl didn’t bother going back to her room to change her clothes. Instead she washed the salt off her body under an outdoor shower, thrilling in its sting. By the time she reached the resort’s beach bar, her hair a damp tangle caressing her face, Anton was already seated at a small table under a green and white umbrella. “I took the liberty of ordering you a Kir Royale,” he said.
“Wonderful.” Cheryl sat and sipped the pale pink, lightly sweet cocktail, relishing the tingle of champagne bubbles on her tongue. They talked about the sea and the sky.
Cheryl was thinking about dinner when a flock of professional flyers strutted into the bar. There were half a dozen of them, all very thin, their wings surgically attached to their muscular arms. With their short hair and flat chests, it was difficult to tell the women from the men. Their wings were decorated with shimmering holographic paintings that danced as the flyers chatted and flirted. Tigers, dragons, samurais, blood-red roses.
“They are beautiful, like a new species,” Anton said. “They say that some of them have had ribs removed, to reduce their weight.” He shrugged. “Probably just a rumor.”
Cheryl shivered. “I could never live that way. The special diet, the endless exercises, everyone always staring at me. Let’s go.”
As they made their way to the hotel they passed a group of beginners, practicing their leaps from a platform only a few meters above the sand. Cheryl had heard the more experienced flyers call them baby birds. A week ago she’d been one of them, terrified of taking that first step into the empty air.
There was an elderly woman in a motorized wheelchair near the platform, shouting instructions to the beginners. She wore a long white dress and her hair in an elaborate French braid, as if she were a young bride. As they walked by Anton waved to her. The woman smiled and said something in a language Cheryl couldn’t name.
“You know her?” she asked.
“Just a little. She has been teaching here for many years. I can remember her giving me my first lessons, when I was hardly more than a boy.”
“She must have been a fine flyer.” Cheryl tried to imagine a time when Anton had not been so skillful with his wings. He seemed born to soar.
“She never flew.”
Cheryl touched his arm. Anton stopped and turned to look at her. She saw herself doubled in his sunglasses. “What do you mean?”
“She was driving here with her husband, eager to begin flying. Someone ran them off the road. Her husband was killed, and her spine was broken." He shrugged. "Apparently neurological regeneration was of limited value in her situation. After she was discharged from the hospital, she started coming here each summer, to watch the flyers and learn everything she could about them. Now she is the best instructor they have.”
Cheryl stared at the woman. “Will you take me to the advanced platform tomorrow?”
“Of course.” Anton led her to the hotel, holding her hand gently, as if it were a frightened bird.
A pleasant little story. The ending felt a bit weak, though. I'm not sure what was missing, but it needed something. I liked it anyway.
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