(Or My Life as a Bird)

By Oliver McDonald


Chapter 6: Balance

Sunday morning, I was restless and frustrated by our singular lack of success yesterday. After breakfast Amelia and I were playing tag around the house. Mom snapped when I knocked over a vase with my wings.  Either that or the chair.
“Ben! There is no reason for you to be inside, it’s a beautiful day.  Take Amelia outside, at least there’s nothing you can break out there.”
“Come on Amelia,” I said, realizing that this was not the time to argue.  “I’ll race you to the tree.”
“I’ll beat you to the top!” she squealed.
I was done for, I knew it.  I could never have climbed before I got MORFs, and there was little chance I would do very well with my wings getting in the way.  I could climb however, and that should be fun enough.
Sure enough, despite easily getting to the tree first, she soon out-climbed me.  She could worm through smaller spaces, and use smaller branches without fear of them breaking. Or maybe, it was that she couldn’t conceive of one breaking.  I stopped climbing when the branches were getting too thin, but Amelia kept climbing.
“Don’t go to high, I won’t…”
As I called out to her, a branch broke, and she started to fall.  Without thinking I jumped to a branch under her, balanced on it as it swayed back and forth, and caught her.  That was too much for the branch, and with a tearing sound it dipped and started to break.  Without thinking, I spread my wings, and we half glided, half fell, until I landed on the washing line.  Again, I unthinkingly balanced on the thin unstable plastic coated wire as it swung back and forth, dipping lower and lower. When the oscillations died down, I jumped to the ground.
To the sounds of clapping Amelia cried out “Again!” and started to tug me to the tree.
“That was quite the stunt kid.”
I whirled towards the voice, the clapping starting to register. It came from a man in pinstriped suit, standing in front of two large windowless vans.  The vans were blue with the “FAME” stencilled on the sides in yellow, and a government seal on the doors.
Oh shit, government again. “Come on Amelia.” I said, and ran towards the house yelling “Mom! Mom! They’re back!”
Mom came out of the kitchen, her hands covered in flour.  “Get inside Ben.” She ordered, and then marched up to the government man like an avenging angel.
“She is registered.  Get you and your sycophants off my land!”
“Ma’am.  I think there has been a misunderstanding,” he started to say.
“Damn right there’s a misunderstanding!” mom responded.  “We had enough of your type the other day!”
He held up his hands, attempting to placate her.  “We’re not with the state, we’re federal.”
“And just how does that make you better?” she demanded.
“Because we are here to help. Look, I’ll leave my assistants in the vans, can we go inside so I can explain?”
“Fine.” Mom grumped, and turned to lead into the house. She saw that Amelia and I had stopped to watch the confrontation, and yelled “Ben, Amelia, I told you to go inside.  To your rooms, both of you right now!
“Actually, Ma’am.  It might be best if Ben stayed with us.”
“Fine.” She nodded, obviously still angry.  “Amelia, to your room.” She continued leading us into the living room.
Once we were all seated, Mom demanded “Explain what you’re here for then.”
“Ma’am,” he started, “Federal Law requires that all new MORF victims be tested to ascertain their abilities.  In general this is done by the state or district government, and they just submit their findings to us.”
“And who is us?”
“We are the Federal Agency for MORF Evaluation, or FAME.  May I continue?”
“And your identification?” She asked.
“Here you go.” He responded handing it over. 
Mom studied it carefully.  “It appears to be genuine Mr. Devine.”  She said somewhat less angrily, and handed it back.  “So why are you here?”
“However in this fine state,” he said his voice dripping with disdain. “They neglect to do so with any MORF victims that display any animal traits.  Their misguided justification is that they are not human.”
Mom snorted in derision.  “I assure you, Ben is completely human.”
“Of course he is,” he responded.  “That is were we come in. He, or do you prefer she? Whichever, Ben must be evaluated, and we have the equipment and personnel to carry out the tests with us.”
“And?” mom asked.
“We can either do it now, or come back another time, as long as it is within the next month.”
“And then?”
“Unless it shows that Ben has become psychotic after his transformation,” he assured us, “we leave you information on what assistance funding there may be, and leave.”
Mom turned to me, “I think son, that it would be best to get this over and done with.”  She looked briefly at the FAME agent.  “I mean there isn’t really any way to study for it.”
“No Ma’am,” he assured us. 
I nodded.  “What do I have to do?”
“I’ll get things set up then.”
Mom took me inside and made me some lunch.
“Are you sure you’re ready for this?” she asked as I shovelled food into my mouth.
I nodded, looked up and after swallowing my current mouthful of ham hock said “I think….”  Then as I registered what I was seeing out the window over her shoulders, my eyes widened and my answer was cut short as I stared my mouth hanging open.
“What’s wrong?” Mom asked looking worried.
“”Look..” I said pointing out the window behind her.
There was a large shirtless man directing the erecting of some sort of tower.  What had shocked me, and mom, when she turned and looked, were the batwings he had folded on his back.  As we crowded the window watching the flurry of activity outside, we saw that he was not the only hybrid out there, just the most obvious.  What peaked my interest, was that he was the only one wearing a collar like mine.
Why didn’t she have a collar I wondered.  As I got up and started for the door Mom said “Don’t bother them Ben.”
I paid her little heed as I went out, and looked around.  There, she didn’t look too busy.  She was sitting on a stool preening her whiskers, tail lazily swing back and forth behind her.
She looked up as I approached her.  “You must be Ben?”
“Yes,” I stammered.  How did she know?
“Don’t worry,” she assured me, “I’m not reading your mind,” she paused.  “I used my mind, you see there is only one person of your apparent age listed here.”
“Oh,” I said, feeling stupid.
She smiled at me.  “I’m Katherine McDowell, but please call me Kat.  Now, I believe you had a question?”
“Why don’t you have a collar?” I blurted out.
Kat bared her teeth and growled “Because I am not an animal.”
My face fell, “and I”
Her face softened as she interrupted me “and neither are you, despite what this despicable state might tell you.”
I smiled a little, “Then how,”
“Hang on Ben,” she said, then called out “Harold, a chair for Ben please.”
The bat-winged man yelled back “On its way.” The next thing I knew a chair floated over, and settled to the ground facing her.
As I sat down, mom came out from the house and approached us “Ben isn’t bothering you is he?” she asked.
“No Mrs. Sanchez,” Kat replied.  “I am Katherine McDowell.  I am here with FAME to perform a telepathic examination of Ben.”  She picked up a clipboard.  “Under Federal law, telepathic examinations of a minor can not be performed without the consent of their guardian.” She concluded, handing the clipboard to Mom.
“And if I say no?”
“Then we would have to use more traditional methods, and re-test every couple of weeks for about a year.” Kat smiled.  “As a registered telepath, anything I learn from Ben is protected under privilege, and as a telepath, I can assure you, that no one will be able to ‘lift’ it from my mind.  Please consider it.”
“Very well,” Mom replied as she signed the form and handed it back.
“Ok Ben,” she said to me, “relax and close your eyes.  You might feel something, but it won’t hurt.”
I closed my eyes, and tried to relax, but the idea of someone sifting through my thoughts made it hard.  I guess she expected that, as I didn’t feel anything at all.  After a minute or so, I was able to stop my mind from spinning in circles. 
“Ok, you can open your eyes.” She said.
“You’re finished?”
With a smile she replied “No. Now lets see,” and she felt around the inside of the collar, until I heard a small click.  “Anna-belle, you’ve done it!” Kat exclaimed.
“Now close your eyes and relax again”
This time, it was easier to relax, and I felt a slight tingle, almost like when they had us hold the Van de Graf generator and made our hair stand on end in school.
“Ok, all done now.”  She said.
I opened my eyes, as she again felt inside my collar and I heard the click again.  “There is something I need to tell you, that you must not tell anyone, not even your family. Do you understand?”
I nodded.
“This collar provides a telepathic shield, so no one can read your thoughts,” she told me.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because a very brave woman modified the design.” She told me. “Now, let’s go and see your mother.”
As we went up to the house I mulled over what she had told me. Before I had met Kat, or rather Ms. McDowell, it had not even occurred to me that someone would be able to look at what I was thinking, or remembered. Now, she tells me, that because of this accursed collar, no would be able to.
“What about the one the he wears?” Pointing at the man with the bat wings. “Does it do the same?”
Katherine looked a little sad as she answered. “No. Harold has had his too long.”
“Mrs. Sanchez” Kat said when we got to our house. “Ben here is essentially stable, so I can give him a clean pass.”
“I knew he was,” Mom answered.
Kat smiled.  “Most mother’s say the same thing, and it is nice for them to be accurate.  There is another reason we do this.  It is to see if there the person being tested has any unusual abilities.  Ben does not.”
“Is that it then?” Mom asked.
“I’m afraid not,” Katherine replied.  “There is some physical testing, that is both to help Ben learn what he can do, in a controlled, safe environment, and to register this information.”
Mom nodded.
“Also, a couple of things you should watch for.  Ben, understandably, feels anger about the collar, and at those who will call him, or treat him as, an animal.”
“So am I!” Mom retorted.
“It is important that he does not lash out at them. It will not only exacerbate the issue, but if he causes them harm, then he will be ‘controlled’.”
“I would never” I started to say.
“What about at the hospital Ben?” Mom asked me.
I lowered my head, embarrassed.
“I will rely on you to continue to teach Ben.” Kat said. “If you need help, though, give me a call,” and handed mom her card.
“Thanks,” she said taking the card.  “You mentioned physical testing?”
“Yes, let me see if Harold is ready for him yet.”  Kat closed her eyes for a second. “Yes.  Ben go see Harold Thorson, he’ll start you off.”
“I went outside, thinking about what Kat had said, both to me, and to my mother. Although I would have to be careful about my actions, at least I didn’t have to worry about what I thought.  Harold, Mr. Thorson rather, had erected a tower about 100’ high, with what looked like a diving board projecting over the edge.
“Up you come then kiddo,” he called down to me from the top.
I barely had a chance to react, when I started to float up to the top.  Instinctively I spread my wings.
“Easy there, there isn’t much space up here.” He called to me as I continued to soar to the top.
I blushed, and folded my wings, just as I came in for a landing. “Um, hi.” I said as my feet touched the top of the tower.
“Hi yourself,” Harold replied.  “We are up here to test how well you can fly, and to pass on a few tips so you can learn.”
I looked down, it seemed a lot further than it had when I was on the ground.  I carefully moved further from the edge.  “Ok, sure” I replied a little nervously.
He chuckled in a friendly manner. “Don’t worry, if you fall, I can catch you.”
I gulped, and nodded.
“Ok, with the look of those wings, you’ll probably fly better than I can, but we’ll still take it easy.”  He looked at me, to ensure I was paying attention.  “Watch what I do, then you try.  Okay?”
I nodded in assent, not too sure if I could speak clearly.
At that, the ran out on the diving board, and jumped off, spreading his wings.  He dropped a bit, and then flapping rose up and circled the tower.  “Ok, kid, your turn.”
I gathered my courage, and spread my wings.  Let’s see how this works, I thought to myself, and flapped a couple of times.  At first my I just lifted a little, but then my body swung out to be more horizontal, and I moved forwards.
“Easy there.” Harold called.  “Let’s see you turn.”
By this time, my speed had increased, so I lent to the side.  I was turning!  I whooped and lent a little more.  My whoop turned into a strangled shriek as I started to fall out of the air.
Harold caught me, as promised.  “That kid, is called a stall.” He told me as he set me back on top of the tower.  “You want to turn that sharp, you gotta go faster.”
“Faster.  Got it.” I replied.
“Now kid, we know you can fly, that’s all we really need.” He turned and shouted down “Hey, Devine!  He can fly.”
He turned back to me.  “You should know your limits though.  Let’s see what you can do.  Here to the top of that hill and back, fast as you can.”
He was pointing to a hill a little over half a mile away.
“Ok here goes,” I leapt into the air, and started to fly towards the hill, trying for as much speed as possible.  I kept low, not wanting to run out of energy and have a long way to fall.  I did increase altitude before turning at the hill, remembering how I fell out of the sky last time I tried this, my extra speed, however, made this turn quite easy, and I sped back to the tower.  As I approached the tower I could see warm air moving upwards, and had an image of an eagle soaring on a thermal, so I slowed down as I approached, and glided into the thermal, and slowly spiral around.  It was working, the ground was dropping away effortlessly.
After a few minutes of this I was quite high up, and looking down, I saw Harold holding a sign that read “COME DOWN”.  *What was wrong?* I wondered, and turned out from the thermal, and flew down as fast as possible, tucking my wings in tight, until I was almost down, before pulling out to land heavily beside him.
“What’s wrong?” I shouted as I came in.
“Nothing’s wrong,” Harold said calmly.  But they are ready for your other tests.
“Oh,” I felt embarrassed.  I’d forgotten about them.
“Not  to worry, but you’d better hurry down,” he said as he launched himself off the tower.
A little abashed I followed him.
The ground based tests were boring in comparison to the freedom of flying, I could lift about 250 lbs, my grip was way above the norm, pulling about 130 lbs per hand.  The only interesting test was the balance test.  I had to walk along a series of beams, that slowly got narrower, until the last one was about and inch wide.  The nasty trick was that half-way along it, it started to rotate, that made it quite hard to stay on to the end.
At the end of the tests, Mr Devine escorted me up to the house.  Mum and Dad were waiting in the living room, and we all sat down.
“Ok,” Mr. Devine started, opening a folder. “Ms. McDowell has passed her, it seems that in her opinion there is no tendency to megalomania.”  He grinned a little at that.  “Or any mental powers for that matter.  Mr. Thorson has written glowing reports about her flying abilities, the data reads as top speed about 120 kilometres per hour, good soaring, and a dive, or stoop speed way up at 400.”
“You be careful son,” my father said.  “Hit the ground at that speed…”
I nodded.  “I’ll be careful dad.”
“Strength wise,” the agent continued.  “Nothing extraordinary, except for grip, way above normal, and his claws are strong enough to dig into wood, and I’d guess soft metal.  The real surprise though is balance.  To date, I don’t think anyone has finished the balance course, and definitely none as fast.”
That made me feel quite proud.
“I’ll leave you a copy of the test results and get them entered into the national system.”
“Thanks,” mom said.
“And finally, here is a coupon for 100 hrs of small craft flying lessons at the local airport.” Mr Devine said as he handed it over to my father.  “I suggest you talk to Harold Thorsen, he’s a good instructor.”
With that over, he excused himself, and by that time all the equipments was packed in the vans, and they all left.
Over supper dad asked me if I would like to learn to fly a plane, and I almost fell over myself saying I would.

End of Chapter 6
To be continued.



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