DANCES WITHOUT FEATHERS: I of III
Part III of III
The climb was steep at times, but I managed to haul my carcass to the top. The backside of the hill sloped gently away. The breeze at my back turned into a stiff wind the closer I got to the apex, and I saw dust picking up in front of me, just as it was to the sides and behind me. Air was being funneled to a spot about a mile ahead, and then forced upwards.
There’s an old saying in meteorology: air that goes up must come down. It wouldn’t have been too hard to direct some of the air shooting into the stratosphere back down to where I danced earlier. Where the rest of it was going, I didn’t know.
On the ground at the center of the swirling air was a small cabin. Directly above that cabin was where the converging air met. When it did, it twisted itself together in rope-like vortices, each darkened by a significant amount of dust and surface matter. I figured that the rock around here must have had some iron content. So much debris aloft could cause radio interference. How could Rapheson have missed this on satellite?
I moved closer to the cabin. Off to the left was a bank of solar collectors surrounding a walled-off box. Water storage?
I spotted him then. A lithe, small figure moving from behind the cabin in a halt step, arms extended, palms down, making each step deliberately and heavily. He was dressed in the full feather regalia that went out of style years ago.
He stopped his forward crawl, projected his arms to his side, right foot forward slightly, left foot set as a pivot—and then he did it! A sudden counter-clockwise—counter-clockwise!—spin, growing faster as he drew his arms in. His body was a blur. The air above the dancer immediately swirled stronger.
He came out of his move and I stood gaping like an idiot. Which is how he spotted me.
He was too good, too controlled to move abruptly and spoil his dance, so he slowly straightened and looked at me.
Like a dope, I raised my hand in greeting—a mistake. Because he did a quick, tight back flip, landing with his arms swept forward, it took me a full second to realize what that dance would do. By then it was too late because a blast of wind from behind knocked me sprawling to the ground.
I was blinded by the crud in my eyes, but I could tell he did the move twice more because there were two more blasts of wind that kept me pinned down.
“So,” I heard a voice say. “Somebody has finally come. But of course you are too late. Stand up.”
I struggled to my knees, rubbed my eyes, and slowly stood. And do you know what? He was pointing a gun at me. A gun!
The man looked me over. I looked over the gun. “No feathers,” he said. I didn’t take my eyes off the end of the barrel. “How easily the old ways are forgotten.”
He had the look of a man who had unwillingly swallowed a bug. “I am going to shoot you. But tell me first. Who sent you?” I started to speak. “Please. No need to dissimulate. I’ll know if you’re lying.”
“The Weather Ser —”
“I know that!” He wasn’t liking my first answer. “Who!?”
He held the gun up to my nose, made a silent pow with his lips. “Rapheson?” His creased, weather-worn face cracked into a smile. It wasn’t becoming—he should sue his dentist. “Not little Teddy Rapheson?” He laughed.
His reminiscing made him forget me for a moment, and he took his eyes off my hands. I couldn’t do much with him standing right there, but I was trying to make use of the fact that all that flying dust created static electricity. There was more than one way to make lightning! I was able to bend one of the vortices with an extensive hand flurry, just the kind Astaire used to do. But this wasn’t enough to get me everything I required. For that, I needed to move my legs.
“I remember when I hired that scrawny brat. Not bad with diff-EQs. Strong sense of rhythm. Good legs. That ambitious son of a bitch thought he knew more than everybody. Even me. Ah, the whirligig of time, eh Mr…?” He cocked an ear toward me.
“Blackfox!” I shouted, while squatting as quickly as I could and clicking my heels together. The audacity of the move surprised Lang—for who else could it be but the Old Master?—and he defensively moved back.
But not far enough. The bolt, anemic but fully capable of doing the job if it connected, came down a few meters behind him. The crack of thunder was instantaneous and stunned both of us. Lang dropped the gun.
We both looked at it lying in the dirt. Then we looked at each other. We both thought the other would go for the gun, so we left it lying there and ran in opposite directions. Brave boy that I am, I sprinted about twenty meters and turned and saw Lang return to his former spot and make some quick corrections to the vortices.
“Not enough, Blackfox! You can’t stop the dance! It’s almost finished! No more weather!” He didn’t sound pleased.
No more weather? What was that about? Wait a second. Couldn’t be…could it? Makes some kind of sense and would explain all the dust shooting into the atmosphere. It would also explain why he’d holed up here keeping quiet for so long after everybody thought he was dead.
When I was in training, I heard that Lang had this cockamamie idea of the Last Dance. It would solve all the world’s problems, fix it so that there was no more weather.
What causes weather is the sun differentially heating the earth. The equator is hotter than the poles, right? Hot air rises at the equator and sinks at the poles, actions which create all wind and weather. Lang’s idea was to pump a load of reflective material into the upper atmosphere to block sunlight near the equators, thus balancing out the amount of radiation received all over the globe.
Using the twisted logic common to all Utopians, Lang “proved” this ploy would have ended all strife, restored Peace and Harmony to all mankind, etcetera. It was said the Last Dance would take years to properly perform. Had to be done at several different spots all over the planet, in conditions just so. Must have taken him years. I was interrupting the final steps.
Lang was apparently satisfied with his corrections, and he turned toward me. I could see he was going to try on me the same trick I had attempted on him. It was obvious his dance was better—such form! And from such an old man! If I stayed where I was I’d never have to worry about evening out my tan again. Running away would have just postponed the inevitable, so I did the next best thing. I ran toward him. This wasn’t out of bravery, but necessity. The lightning hit harmlessly behind me.
Lang didn’t wait for me to get to him. He reached his hands over his head, locked fingers, rose on one foot and locked the other against his knee, and then the old fox jumped up and down. Clever. If I had been closer, I could have dodged it. But I wasn’t and I didn’t. A cloud opened and dropped a load of water on my skull, soaking me and knocking me flat on my stomach. I sucked some of the water into my lungs, coughed, and struggled to catch my breath.
I could see Lang move in for the kill. He began to tap dance as fast as he could—even in my sorry state, the calm swooping motion of his arms impressed me. I felt the same hot air I did earlier. I barely had strength to stand. I saw Lang laugh. He was enjoying this.
I groaned and managed to get on my feet, spit ot the reamining water, and do you know what I did then? The Charleston. It’s known as a joke dance, a hack. Nobody teaches it or uses it because its effects are unpredictable. Since our job was making order out of chaos, the Charleston was scorned.
You’ve probably never heard of it, so I’m going to tell you how to do it because some day it could save your life, too. Incidentally, all our official dances are written in form of dense mathematical equations, for obvious reasons. Takes years to learn how to read them. This one is simple, so we don’t need the math.
Start by squatting about three-quarters of the way down. Put your knees at wide angles from your body. Place your left hand on your right knee, and your right hand on your left knee. Keep them there as you move your knees toward each other. When they touch, switch hands so that your right hand is on the right knee and vice versa. Then swing your knees back out, and back in again, crossing your hands each time your knees meet.
Once you get good at this, you look like you’re made of rubber. Fluidity is the key. It was what allowed the wind blast that was directed at me from behind to flow over me, like a climbing roller coaster. The old saw that “air that goes up must come down” held, as the air that came up went back down under Lang’s feet, just when he was starting his last jump.
It was simple: the extra force popped him up like a cork from a champagne bottle, right at one of the swirling vortices that he had created. The wind snatched his body and flung it upwards at a tremendous velocity—so fast I couldn’t follow—but fast enough to have shot him straight into the stratosphere.
Now, I don’t want you to worry. It wouldn’t be the eventual fall that was going to kill him. Because it was damn cold up there, and there wasn’t enough air to fill his lungs, he’d freeze or suffocat long before he hit the ground.
With Lang gone, the wind decreased and the vortices dissipated. I straightened painfully and caught my breath, wondering what else was broken.
I went to Lang’s cabin and looked around. A cot, electric stove, cans of stewed tomatoes, refrigerator, empty bottles of Irish whiskey, an exposed toilet in the corner, a ceiling bulb, ancient copy of Holton, and pages and pages of dense mathematical script. His master theory. My expertise was limited to reading dances, but I could tell this was sophisticated stuff, so I collected it and put in a call to Rapheson, betting the interference would be gone.
It was. I told Rapheson what had happened, and since but my gray matter was thawing fast, I wasn’t surprised at his calm reaction.
I finally mentioned the pile of Lang’s work that I found and Rapheson perked up.
“Wonderful, Mr. Blackfox! Protect those papers. Save The Last Dance for me.”