Rainbird never belonged. To one race, she’s chattel. To the other, she’s an abomination that should never have existed.
She lives on the sunway.
High above the ground, Rainbird is safe, as long as she does her job, keeps her head down, and never ever draws attention to herself.
But one act of sabotage is about to change everything.
For Rainbird. And for her world.
Click here for the first excerpt.
Rainbird rubbed at her eyes, gritty with lack of sleep. The Company did not like sunway tremors. They had already delayed sunrise and roused the inspectors out of their eggs, tucked warmly in the discs between the spine segments, to inspect every foot of track on the underside of the sunway.
Static shrilled from her radio, resolved into Petrus’ voice. “You there yet, Grit?”
That was her cover name. “Yeah,” she growled back. They kept their radio communications terse and on topic. Anyone could be listening.
“Get the equipment ready. I’ll be there soon.” Petrus’ voice was tight with tiredness and the need to keep from coughing. He clicked off before she could respond.
He shouldn’t be out here. Stupid sunway tremors!
He’d told her to wait. He expected her to wait.
I’ve been doing this for years by myself! And the sooner we finish, the sooner we can go home. He can go home.
Rainbird shed her coat and kicked it aside, up against one of the spines that marched in a row along the top side, the nightside, of the sunway. She wore thick pants reinforced with leather panels and a halter top which left her powerful shoulders and arms bare and her wings free. They rose from her shoulders in thin, diaphanous layers, and hung raggedly to her knees. A true eiree was light and strong enough to fly, but a halfbreed—even had her wings been whole, and with her strength and acrobatic skill—could not.
Rainbird pulled the harness over her head and settled it against her shoulders and back. She cinched the straps tight around her waist and twitched her wings to make sure they were unconfined. Twisted poly ropes clipped onto the harness, their other ends secured to rings embedded deep in the bone.
She stood at the edge of the sunway where it curved down, and stared at the darkened land. Faint pinpricks of light came from some town below. The darker roads and rivers ran like uncoiling ribbons. Far beyond her sight, the sunway sloped down to a shattered tail in a canyon on one side and a skull buried in a swamp on the other. Crumbling high cliffs and shattered stone mountains ringed the crater the dragon had made on its impact.
Rainbird turned her back, looked out at the gritty cream bonescape instead. She was half off the edge.
Most inspectors did not jump. Most inspectors scuttled down, paying out the rope, boots scuffing against bone, edging their way to the track on the underside, the sunside.
None of the other inspectors had wings. None of them had a drop of eiree blood. None of them wanted to fly.
Freefalling in the cold, plunging into darkness. Wind roared in Rainbird’s ears, pierced her soft downy skin and plunged into her light hollow bones. Her tattered wings streamed behind her. She relished the way her skin prickled as the icy air rolled over it, the way every sense was sharpened, the way everything took on clarity and brightness. A knot of excitement and panic in her stomach wriggled, like a nest of snakes.
This was what it meant to be truly alive.
The end of the tether jerked her back to her duties. She’d been bracing for it, and she brought her feet up in time to meet the sunway. Smack, smack, several times, swinging back and forth until she’d managed to slow herself down enough to reach for the hand and footholds sunk into the bone.
One of these days, Petrus often said, she’d crack her skull doing this.
Since today was not that day, Rainbird unwound yet another rope from her waist and clipped another safety line to a ring. She went down swiftly, till she reached the metal track that ran all along the underside of the sunway. It was made of a virtually indestructible alloy of iron and serpentium, nearly as invulnerable as the bone itself. Even at this high altitude, subject to the fierce heat of the Day Sun as it glided across the track and the bitter cold of the night, the alloy held its shape remarkably. But not so well that she was out of a job.
Or more accurately, her father was out of a job.
Their occupation was not exciting, unlike the glamour and theatrics of the circus that had been her first home. Once she’d danced on the high wire and hung on the trapeze, her vestigial wings sparkling with glitter, disguised as a costume. Now, she tested rivets and crossbars, welded together tertiary supports of inferior alloys with a blowtorch, lubricated the insides of the track with gallons of oil.
Having to do all of this virtually upside down, several markers above the earth, just added a touch of spice to the whole endeavor. Luckily, she was not slowed down by thick gloves or a tank of supplemental oxygen.
Rainbird unclipped the safety lines from her harness and belt, and left them dangling. She wrenched open a small door in the giant track, then wrestled it shut behind her. Beyond the small space was another door. Rainbird waited for the pressure to re-equalize before opening it. She squeezed in through the small space and dropped onto a wire-mesh floor.
The air was sharp with lubricant, sooty with the recent application of a blowtorch. Underneath it all was the musty, organic scent of ancient bone, radiating heat and thrumming with electricity. Far above Rainbird’s head, above the metal framework of the track, strung through holes in the bone segments was what remained of the continent-sized dragon’s spinal cord, co-opted now to run messages and electricity throughout the sunway.
Did any of the creature’s thoughts, reflexes, or instincts still remain in those nerves? She’d heard of experiments with frog legs; some speculated that those same electric currents were responsible for the tremors, activating ancient muscular tissue that had survived both time and the humans.
Rainbird shivered at the idea, and turned her attention to the track. She made sure that a thick film of lubricant covered all surfaces in contact with the Day Sun as it glided through, and zealously banged on supports to ascertain their soundness. She carefully checked the places where metal embedded into bone, looking for any distortion or cracking.
Petrus Gallavant had never had an X on his record for negligence of duty. His daughter was not going to ruin that for him.
Rainbird climbed up the inner walls of the track, scooting from ladder to ladder in her quest for weakness. A pungent whiff stopped her.
Sunmoss! Rainbird grinned. Her day had already gotten better, maybe enough to make up for last night’s encounter with the eiree and the summons from Headquarters that had taken Petrus from his sickbed. There it was, a yellow-gold mass, tucked in a corner, rooted in the bone. The thermosynthetic moss thrived in the heat that the track captured during the Day Sun’s passage. It was rare to find some growing naturally, but it would fetch a good price in the Up-High Market on Third Rib.
It was tricky getting to the sunmoss, tucked away as it was in the bone, away from the scaffolding built around it. Rainbird crawled onto the edge of a metal limb, stood up and reached. She had just enough give to scrape off some of that precious stuff, the feathery golden moss flaking into her hand.
Along with something else entirely, something grey and speckled, like dandruff, spiraling down in motes.
Rainbird stared at the evidence in her hand, breath squeezed out of her. Then she grabbed her pencil flashlight and shone it into the corner.
“Great Glew!” The exclamation, part panic, part awe, came out of her unbidden, from the wellspring of racial memory.
Bonerot, great peeling sheets of it, coated the inside of the cavity, rolling away out of her sight. The places where supports were sunk into the bone were spongy-looking and deformed.
Rainbird had never seen anything like it, never even heard of an infestation so bad.
All the best alloys in the world wouldn’t keep the Day Sun up if the dragon skeleton itself were to collapse. There was no sunway without the bone.
And if there was no sunway, then there would be no sun. Only darkness and cold for the humans huddled beneath the dragon’s spine.
I uploaded Rainbird to various e-tailers last night. The official blog announcement is coming soon!