“So,” asked the human, the outsider. The one who did not know. “What the hell was that thing?”
A Kuzzi warrior stood next to the human, thinking how to explain. Though the one called Joseph Matson was tall, over six of their feet, the Kuzzi stood more that two feet taller. His short coat of horizontally striped fur had thinned for the summer, the blue, black and grey markings of his skin showing through, a natural camouflage that blended well with the alien landscape during the hot months. The male’s head was surrounded by a thick, glossy black mane, a single gray stripe cutting its forehead and muzzle to the chin.
“They were the wind,” answered the warrior.
Matson wondered if the Kuzzi were speaking metaphorically, as its kind often did, or not. It certainly sounded like a poetic description, but the young man knew much of Kuzzi speech patterns, and Matson would have sworn his companion meant the statement to be taken literally.
“Bentelii,” he asked, “speak plain now, or with layers?”
“Speak with plain layers,” the warrior answered. “No other speak possible.”
Matson grunted. He wanted an answer, a simple, uncomplicated set of words wrapped around an idea he could accept. His companion’s answer, however, told him there was nothing simple or uncomplicated about his question, no matter how straight-forward it might have seemed to him. Setting his repeller on the ground, the young man made a motion with his head the Kuzzi understood as a request for the full explanation. Both males sat, one cross-legged, the other with arms wrapped around knees, and the one who was not an outsider spoke.
“Long before your people come this place,” it said, sinewy arms in motion, “long before Kuzzi people even, there were the Fa’Lun. They exist, learn to hunt and harvest, to speak and write and build and dream. They name Byanntia, teach Kuzzi speak, know whole world as old race while Kuzzi only children.”
“So, that thing could talk?” Matson asked his challenging question with wonder in his voice, and Bentelii nodded, equal wonder in the motion. Then, it continued.
The warrior told the human of the Fa’Lun’s fascination with flight. The race might have been ancient, but they had always remained nomads, had never built permanent shelters. The humans would find no artifacts of a Fa’Lun empire. They had never been a race interested in great populating numbers. No, the Fa’Lun, the story went, decided early on that the best way to deal with predators was not to try and construct defenses, or to cover the land with great numbers of their kind. Instead, they had a different idea.
“They wanted to fly. Their thought was that the safest place was in the sky, and so they went there.”
Joseph Matson shook his head in fascinated confusion. He questioned his friend as to what he meant. How did someone simply choose to fly?
Bentelii explained that the Fa’Lun were quite adept at breeding. It was they that had crossbred the early kison, an at-the-time stringy, tenacious beast, until they had perfected the slow-moving, fat and juicy breed the humans had discovered upon their arrival on Byanntia. To the Fa’Lun the answer to their quest had been simple.
“If they wanted to fly, they would simply make themselves fly.”
The Fa’Lun, a people who had made almost a religion out of genetics—who had never over-extended their population in fear members would break off and form their own tribes, tribes that might turn on one another—turned their amazing talents on themselves. Quite simply, they began to breed themselves into a race which could take flight.
“It took them thousands of years,” Bentelii said with a flourish, a sound like pride in its graveled voice. Matson wondered if the Kuzzi was telling the tale in a bragging sense—hometown clan makes good—to let the human know that not only his race could make things happen when they set their minds to it. “But slowly, eventually, they succeeded.”
Matson looked into the sky, his mind filled with questions. How was it no one had mentioned any of this to a human before? Why had a Fa’Lun never been seen before now? How did Bentelii know all he told? The Kuzzi continued its story.
“Bones got lighter, hollow. Skin stretched, flaps extended, ankle to wrist, hair thickened, hardened, grew into feathers, not like bird, different, their own. Feathers enough to take the Fa’Lun to the skies.”
Bentelii’s command of the human’s language was quite good, but still the warrior stumbled as it tried to explain the transformation of Byanntia’s first race. The Kuzzi, it seemed, had begun to reach for sentience just as the Fa’Lun began to reach for the clouds. The older ones refused to hinder the dangerous carnivores as they obviously began to come into their own as thinking beings. Instead they used the event as fuel, a prod to keep them working toward their goal.
Let the Kuzzi learn to hunt with tools, they decided with an inordinate generosity, let them learn to plant and built and spin and carve and create. By the time they are a force that can oppose us, we will be gone to where they can not reach.
“Are you saying the Fa’Lun named, ah, your people? ‘Kuzzi’ was a Fa’Lun word?”
“Yes. All words are Fa’Lun.”
Bentelii explained that while the Fa’Lun had sought flight above all things, still they had remained a part of the world. Not wanting to exterminate a predator, they had instead helped the Kuzzi along, adopting them, gearing the younger race to take their place as caretakers of the planet. By the time the Fa’Lun had streamlined themselves to the point where tools and tribes were no longer of any use to them, they had left their language behind in the stewardship of the Kuzzi, as well as anything else the younger species desired to claim as their own.
“They had been flying for some time by then. By the point Kuzzi understood, really, what the Fa’Lun were, had been, were doing… I mean…”
“I understand,” whispered Matson, his tone quieted by the awe tingling his senses. “Go on.”
“By that time, the Fa’Lun disappeared. They used to fly and land, like the birds, fly to escape danger, fly to search for food, land to sleep, to make nests… but that stopped. By the time Kuzzi became a true race, the Fa’Lun went to the skies and did not return.”
Matson was speechless. He could not comprehend it all. Oh, he could accept the story as a scientific thought, as an idea, a suggestion. A possibility. But as a reality, as a tangible notion with weight he could test against his own beliefs—no.
No, it was too large an idea, too foreign.
“It is hard for us to accept as well.”
“But,” Matson countered, “your people had time to accept this, they saw it. Talked to the Fa’Lun… ah, I, er… do you still… does anyone still talk to them?”
Bentelii shook his head.
“Not for stretch after stretch. Last person I know to talk with a Fa’Lun, many long stretch… In my grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather’s time, healer Baww’ja, they say he friend with one Fa’Lun. The last Fa’Lun that would come down from the sky. They would talk and Baww’ja would tell him of Kuzzi.”
The Fa’Lun of whom Bentelii spoke had no name, or at least never gave one to the healer. Over the years of their relationship, the Fa’Lun grew more and more distant. His eyes began to stay constantly trained on the sky. Finally, after Baww’ja died, the Fa’Lun were never seen again.
“Their minds different,” the warrior explained. “Life on land forgotten, social rules forgotten, everything left behind, not just things, but ideas, concepts, maybe even thought itself.”
Matson shifted uneasily. The more his friend tried to make the concept of the Fa’Lun clear, the more impossible understanding them seemed to become. An entire race that just up and changed themselves—herdsmen who got it into their heads one day to leave the ground behind, who abandoned thought itself for flight.
“They really stopped thinking?”
“The last Fa’Lun, Baww’ja’s visitor, it was said he became harder and harder to communicate with, that toward the end of Baww’ja’s days, it seemed the creature only came back to hear his voice. It is said the healer had a most pleasant voice.”
Matson shuddered. The story he had been counting on to make him feel better, to diminish his guilt, had instead multiplied to become a weight he could barely stand. He turned his head, looking back at the mangled corpse splattered against the rock wall behind them. Not some monster from the skies, at all, but a thing of grace and wonder, a self-made angel which he had snuffed out through a panicked moment of careless fear.
His mind fell backwards, rushing his memory to the moment not so long ago where he had heard the noise in the sky. He had wheeled around, had seen the great, glorious wingspan spread across the heavens, and his first thoughts had been colored with awe. The young human had watched the soaring object as it spun and looped and floated its way in and out of the clouds. He had no idea what he was looking at, did not care. He had stumbled across yet one more of Byanntia’s marvels and was simply happy to be witness to another miracle discovered.
And then, everything had changed. The flying form had taken note of Matson, had changed direction, diving straight for the young man. He had grown frightened. The thing was moving straight for him, flying directly at him at what seemed an incredible speed.
Matson had lifted his repeller, the creature had screeched defiantly, charging on, sweat had stung the trembling human’s eye, and with a single action, it was over.
Suddenly the sky was blotched by an explosion of fluff and flesh and blood, and the ruined sack of what had been a living being slammed down out of the blue and destroyed itself against the solid rock of the mountainside upon which Matson still sat. His eyes glued to the shattered remains, the young man whispered;
“That might be the last of its kind, for all we know. And I killed it.”
The air hung dark with grief between the two friends, regret curling itself around Matson’s neck and biting away at his skull, burrowing into his brain. The human could not bring himself to look his friend in the eye. At least, not until the Kuzzi spat;
Matson’s eyes blinked hard in shock. He swallowed, his head jerking, first sideways then backwards. The motions were violent, but slight. The human asked;
“What do you mean?”
“Fa’Lun foolish, cowardly people. Run away from life instead of embracing it.”
“But they taught themselves to fly.”
“Taught themselves to hide. Afraid of everything, they go to the sky and never return. Tell me, Joseph, what good is flight without destination?”
“But I killed it.”
“Dove at you out of sky, screamed and came for you. What were you supposed to do? What do you think it was coming for?”
“I, I don’t know… but…”
The big Kuzzi smiled. Its mouth opened past the point of humor to where Matson knew the lion-like alien was laughing at him. Placing a paw on the human’s shoulder, Bentelii said softly;
“You humans, you could never understand the Fa’Lun. And perhaps,” the Kuzzi’s yellow eyes went soft for a moment, “perhaps it is best that way.”
The two friends gathered their things then, and prepared to make their way back down the mountain. They had climbed to the height they had merely as a diversion and had been rewarded with far more than they had ever expected. As they started their trek back to the pass where their descent would begin, Matson asked one last question.
“You said the Fa’Lun, that they were the wind. What did you mean by that?”
“They were the wind,” Bentelii repeated, muscles rippling as he ambled down the steep incline. “They were there, but then they were gone.”
Joseph Matson’s eyes scanned the horizon, searching the sky endlessly as he and his friend worked their way down the mountain through the heavy heat of the late afternoon. He wondered about the Fa’Lun, as well as the Kuzzi’s casual dismissal of them. He thought on what he had done, punishing himself diligently, and on how Bentelii had felt about it and had seen no damage in his actions.
Then, a breeze cooled his brow and he sighed in relief, grateful for the slight but comforting gust.
“They Were the Wind” is the third installment in the Tales of Byanntia. The first story in the series (co-written by Bruce Gehweiler), “Time of the Gr’Nar,” was published in the anthology Frontiers of Terror. The second story in the series, “Young as the Mountains,” was published in the anthology Oceans of Space. Both stories were printed in 2002.