Hawk strode swiftly through the human crowd of Christmas shoppers in the Old Earth section of New Chicago.
Around him were reproductions of many of the great architectural styles of the human past. Some were jumbled inelegantly together with Gothic towering over Classic, or Tudor beside log buildings. Others were clustered together in harmony in long streets or sections to form Dickensian Englands or Buck’s own 20th century style.
Normally, Hawk would have enjoyed this area. Architecture fascinated him, and this area was a living museum of all Earth styles, but today he had an unpleasant task.
The sheer number of humans with their smells, chatter, and alien difference clattered against his senses and made him edgy and nervous. He would do what he must and return to the sanctuary of the Searcher.
As a large human male brushed against his side, he bristled and jerked away, but told himself sternly to keep his face calm. He was a fellow human to the other male’s perceptions and no harm or insult had been intended.
The collar of his human shirt chaffing his feathers and skin, Hawk lifted his hand and fingered his chameleon necklace.
His friend Tiber Roland had given him and his brother Ari chameleon stones as early Christmas gifts before she had returned to her family on her home planet.
The stone was unremarkable in appearance, cloudy and smooth like a raw uncut diamond and no larger than his thumb joint, and it hung from a golden chain. In reality, it was a marvelous alien device that was part organic, part mechanical, part alien mind power. With this stone, the wearer could create the illusion of different appearances.
He did not have the psychic ability to control such a device, but the alien telepath Tiber had programmed it for him. Holding the stone, he could now say/think a key word and choose one of half a dozen different appearances. Besides several alien identities, Hawk could appear to be a rock or even blend in unmoving with the landscape as did the Earth chameleon. Ari was particularly amused by his big brother’s apparent transformation into a boulder.
As a warrior this device pleased Hawk. There had been times when his unique racial differences had cost him dearly, or when he had to clumsily cover himself with his great cloak to appear human. His attempt to rescue Buck from the prison planet came painfully to mind. He could have used this stone then. To others he was now a human walking among humans.
Better to be a rock than one of these accursed humans, Hawk thought with bitterness. Toying with the token, he considered assuming his own identity once again. He was not ashamed of what he was, and he was used to being gawked at.
With a sigh, he dropped his hand. No, he had decided to follow Tiber’s advice. He would remain human until his task was completed.
Tiber’s words returned to him. “You and I are both alike in one thing. We are both aliens living with the humans. I by choice, you by necessity. But I differ because on the surface I appear as they. They know me only as alien if I wish it; otherwise, I am as they. Inside, I am totally alien.
“You differ enough on the outside to be marked as alien, although you are more like them than I.” She had smiled at his sharp disagreement of that comparison. “Your people were spawned in the Earth seas. Your DNA is of Earth and its plants and animals. Mine is not. Plus, by their own decision, your ancestors changed your genetic code increasing the similarity between avians and humans.
“You, however, are forever alien. You are always outside looking in. You are distanced and create more distance by your own choice. You cannot understand the humans this way. Take the chameleon stone and go among them as human. Learn what it is to be human.”
In these last few days among human strangers, Hawk had learned many things about human nature and was totally confused by other things. He had quickly realized that the good humans he had encountered before now had always been on their best behavior around him.
Aboard the Searcher, the humans had been aware of his cold alien scrutiny of their actions and had been on their best manners. They were under no such obligation around a fellow human. Among themselves the humans were a remarkably rude, unpleasant, unfeeling, and bumptious race that lived up to all his low expectations.
He was being too harsh, he chided himself. He was angry at the whole race because he was angry at one.
The one human who had changed his hatred of humans has succeeded in giving him a dislike for the whole race.
He and Buck had fought bitterly for the last two weeks until their anger had poisoned their relationship. Their friendship died between them until only the respect each held for the other remained.
The fight had been a long time growing. It had started when Hawk’s half-brother Ari had joined the Searcher crew. From the beginning, Buck had insisted on getting his own “two cents worth” in all of Hawk’s decisions about Ari.
Hawk did not begrudge Buck his interest in the boy for in this century Buck was as rootless and without family as Hawk had been before Ari. Hawk was happy to share his brother with his friend. Nor did Hawk mind that Ari loved and admired Buck. What rankled was that Buck insisted that the boy follow human customs.
Ari's mother had been a human, but Hawk had never belittled his brother for his human blood. He never would. He only insisted that Ari follow their father’s ways.
That was not an unreasonable position. He and Ari were the last of a dead race. If they did not keep their culture and customs alive, no one would. He and Ari had to live among the humans, but they did not have to be assimilated into nonexistence. Let Ari learn the human ways as he had learned in youth. It is good to know others. It is not good to give up what is unique about oneself.
Buck wished Ari to follow human ways and become human as well as avian.
Hawk would not allow that.
The explosion between Buck and Hawk had come when Wilma had invited Buck, Hawk, and Ari to spend Christmas with her and her brother’s family. The invitation was kindly meant. Liberty on Earth during Christmas had been granted to the crew of the Searcher, and they had scattered to families or to dissipation. Only Buck, Hawk, and Ari had had no family to return to.
Buck had accepted eagerly, then told Ari stories of his own past and human Christmases of 500 years before. Ari had been excited. Hawk had refused the invitation for himself and Ari.
Confused, Buck came to his cabin. “What’s wrong? Why have you refused? Is it because it isn’t your religion we celebrate?”
“No, my people are not so provincial as to believe our religion is the only truth in the universe. Make Make is not a jealous god.
“I respect your Earth religions--the goodness and compassion they emphasize. They are religions worthy of a great people. It is a pity your people cannot ‘practice what they preach.’ Avian belief and action are one and not separated. It would be better for you humans if this were so.”
“That’s true enough, Hawk.”
When he said nothing else, Buck muttered, “Okay, if it takes a game of 20 Questions, that’s what I’ll do.” He asked, “Is it Wilma’s family? I know they’re strangers.“
“No, to Ari and me everyone is a stranger. We are alone in the universe except for each other.”
Hurt shown in Buck’s eyes. “I consider myself your friend at the very least. I am sorry that you think me a stranger.”
“There are some chasms of difference that even friendship cannot cross. You are an alien to us. We do not belong to your world.”
“Ari is half human. Will you deny him half of his life?” Buck gasped in sudden understanding. “That’s why you won’t come to Wilma’s. You’re afraid a few presents and a Christmas tree will make human life more attractive to Ari. Make him reconsider your dictates as to what life he will and will not lead.”
“Ari will follow our father’s ways. Is it not enough that he must live always in a human world? Do you greedy humans insist that he have a human soul as well?”
“I don’t want that for the boy. I just want him to have some say in his life style. Humanity can offer him things of value, too. Let him choose what he wishes.”
“Let him choose what the humans want, you mean. You wish him to be a human. I will not allow that. What can humans teach him but to hate others who are not humans. To destroy those who are different. What can the humans teach Ari that is so wonderful? I have seen nothing good in humans that is not better in my own race.”
“That is intolerance, Hawk. My race doesn’t hold a patent on that emotion. I’m not out to woo the boy away from you. I just want him to have some fun. Show him something of human culture. Hell, I want him to have a Merry Christmas. What’s wrong with that? Christmas celebrates love, compassion, and brotherhood. Ari won’t be perverted by that, and neither will you.”
“No, he will not go. He is not human.”
“Scrooge wears feathers this year. Okay, you want to be alone. By God, you’ll be alone. Nobody here but us strangers. Sorry I was foolish enough to think you could lower yourself to be a human’s friend. Enjoy your moral superiority, Hawk.
“But think of this-- when you’re dead, who’ll Ari have? Nobody left but us strangers.” Buck stalked from the room.
Hawk shook his head sadly remembering all the other arguments. They had grown more and more bitter until they had degenerated to name calling and then to polite indifference. Each man understood and respected the other’s viewpoint, but neither would give an inch, not even to save their friendship.
Between the two of them, Hawk and Buck had shielded Ari from witnessing these vicious arguments although the boy knew his brother and his friend were angry with each other.
In a spirit of compromise, Hawk had agreed that the humans and Ari could exchange Christmas gifts before Buck and Wilma left for the holidays. Hawk could not refuse Ari this one excitement of the humans' Christmas. The boy was disappointed that he and Hawk would not go with their friends, but he had accepted Hawk’s wishes.
The day before, Buck had diplomatically shown Hawk Ari's present to seek his approval. It was a World War II style aviator’s jacket with Ari's name on the pocket. Although it was human, Hawk had not disapproved it. The boy was proud of his newly learned skill as a pilot, and Buck’s gesture had touched Hawk.
That same day Buck gave Hawk his present. Hawk had glared at him and thanked him politely. He had refused to trade gifts himself and had wanted nothing. Opening it later, Hawk found a book called A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.
As he read it, Hawk had laughed for the first time since the fight with Buck. He might be Scrooge to Buck, but he would not change his mind. The customs and ways of their people were all that he had left of his race to share with Ari. To give in to the humans would be the final and total death of the avian race.
Ironically, Hawk had been pushed into the gift swapping despite his protests. Ari had caught a human flu virus and was in bed under Dr. Goodfellow’s orders so Hawk had been dragooned by his brother to shop for the boy’s presents for their friends.
For the last three days, Hawk had shopped dutifully and reported back to Ari of what he had seen. Together they had decided on appropriate presents for each person. Hawk had enjoyed the discussions and decisions with his brother. He had not enjoyed the excursions themselves.
Even disguised as a human, the days had been wearing. He had decided that he would act as well as appear human. It would be good practice if he ever needed to use the chameleon stone in a dangerous situation.
Patterning himself on the human he knew best, he had changed the way he moved, his avian body mannerisms, and his speech. The speech was easiest. He spoke fluent human basic having grown up in a bilingual family. It had always been by choice that he did not employ certain human grammatical constructions and slang in his speech. He knew them, but they did not exist in his language so he stubbornly refused to employ them in human language either. His own quiet form of protest against the humans.
Realizing the irony of the situation, Hawk laughed. He sought a separate life from the humans, and here he was disguised as one and doing his best to mimic Buck, the human he was furious with.
A separate life. Hawk had been debating that point. He could seek a full pardon from the human authorities. He would tell them he wished to give Ari a better life than the Searcher. A home. Permanent roots. They could not deny him that. He would not harm any more humans when he had Ari to consider. The Admiral, Buck, and Wilma would regretfully help him obtain one.
A separate life. A home and a return to the old customs and ways. He and Ari free from the influence of all their well-meaning human friends. Ari away from Buck’s interference. A quiet lifetime to share with his brother without adventuring over the galaxy. It sounded dull, but he could survive it.
Leaving their friends would grieve them both. The Searcher crew had become their family. Humans, yes, but family. But they had each other. What other family did they need?
Hawk slowed and stopped before a Victorian-style antique shop specializing in 19th and 20th century items. He had one last gift to purchase. Dreading the thought, he had delayed buying Buck’s gift until now.
As he entered to a tinkling bell, a young human female looked up at him from a counter and smiled.
Humans smile at strangers, he reminded himself and smiled back.
“May I help you?”
“I am... I'm looking for a gift for a friend. He’s fond of the 20th Century.”
“The 20th Century wasn’t that bad. You make it sound as if it’s an ugly bug.”
Hawk chuckled. “It is not the century, but the friend who is the ugly bug.”
She giggled. “I have friends like that myself. Why don’t you look around? I’ll help you in a bit. Try the books. They’re a good gift.”
“I have received such a book. It amused me. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.”
“Yes. You must be Scrooge. I remember the purchase.” She smiled as if remembering the charming, handsome purchaser. “The book must have worked. Here you are looking for presents. A turkey for Tiny Tim next, I guess. A pity they’re extinct.”
“They are not extinct. A few walk around still disguised as humans.”
The girl shook her long blond hair in confusion. “Oh, I see. ‘Turkey’ was slang for a fool then. Say, that’s clever.”
Hawk turned away and began to search among the tottering stacks of books. He liked this young, pretty female with her dark blue eyes and would have enjoyed talking longer but feared he would make some mistake.
Blushing, he remembered some of the errors he had made in the last days. Human body language was difficult at times. One could miss a great deal of the nuances of communication.
And the human sexual element was even more baffling. After a few disastrous, totally misunderstood conversations with human females, he had avoided them completely. He still was not certain who had ‘propositioned’ whom with that redhead.
This young woman did not appear so inclined, but he dare not take a chance, nor did he wish to give an innocent girl an offense.
He glanced at all the peculiar objects that cluttered the dark, dusty room, shook his head with confusion, and returned to the ancient books. Human literature he understood. He had inherited his father’s taste for human literature and history as had Ari. His father and Ari had always admired the humans. Hawk had considered such reading as a means of knowing the enemy.
From across the shop, a human male stared at him. Tensing, he stopped.
Realizing it was his reflection in a mirror, he blinked and relaxed.
His human appearance fascinated him. Tiber had created this human body with careful detail. Although she had changed little, crew members who had seen him like this had not recognized him.
The face, eyes, nose, and mouth were his, but the human forehead and dark eyebrows changed his face drastically. As did the thick dark hair and the ears.
He reached up to fondle his ears but touched feathers. Feeling foolish, he reminded himself that it was an illusion.
Although oddly enough when Ari had touched Hawk’s hair, he had felt hair. Part of the chameleon stone’s magic, Hawk guessed. The ultimate camouflage.
Buck had been wrong about one thing. He had once said that Tiber would whisper sweet nothings in Hawk’s ears if she could ever find them. She had given him a nice pair and had not.
She had, however, told him he was a handsome human male. He had not taken that as a compliment. Other human females had looked favorably at him in this guise so he assumed Tiber spoke the truth. To his own eyes, he looked ridiculous. His face was misshaped.
This human side of him frightened him somehow. He looked at a stranger who was himself. With a shudder he turned away. Tiber should have changed his face more. Perhaps that was what is wrong.
Ari's human disguise looked more natural because he favored his human mother. The rightness of Ari's human appearance disturbed Hawk far more than the wrongness of his own.
A separate life, he thought to calm himself. We will leave. We must leave the humans.
He examined some of the books before him. Ari had suggested a collection of stories or poems where Buck could find familiar things as well as new things. Perhaps one with a Christmas theme.
The Poems of Christmas on the top of a stack drew his attention. He opened it and began to read through the poems.
No wonder birds were nearly extinct on Earth. Half the gifts in “The 12 Days of Christmas” were birds. He read other poems about Santa Claus and his adventures. Was an elf a little android like Twiki?
A stanza of a poem by Longfellow caught his eye, ”’There is no peace on earth,’ I said, ‘For hate is strong, and mocks the song of Peace on Earth, good will to men.” Hawk nodded in agreement. Mankind changed little. Religions of peace, a history of war and hatred. But the religions showed that man did aspire to greater things. That there was hope for the race.
He flipped the pages and skimmed more poems until the word “wings” caught his eyes. He stopped, mesmerized by a poem by Edmund Sears called “Peace on Earth.”
“Still through the cloven skies they come. With peaceful wings unfurled; And still their heavenly music floats O’er all the weary world.”
When the shop girl touched his hand, he jumped.
“I didn’t mean to startle you. Have you decided what you want?”
“I believe so. This book. What is an angel?”
“A beautiful girl.” She glanced at the poem he had been reading. “No, I was wrong. I was referring to ‘angel’ in slang.
“In this poem, an angel is a winged being. A messenger from God. A race of higher beings. They’re mentioned in the Bible.” She moved over to another counter and picked up a large album. “Here’s reproductions we have of some book plates from early Bibles and religious paintings.” She flipped quickly through and showed Hawk a painting. “That’s an angel.”
“But that is...” He cleared his throat. “Such a race existed once.”
As if surprised by his certainty, the girl stared at him. “How can you be sure?”
“I have seen them on another planet. Descendants of this race.”
“The bird people of Throm? I’ve read about them. Is that who you’re talking about?”
“So they looked like this once. I’ve seen holograms of the last survivor, Hawk. Read about him when they tried him for the human deaths. I wept for him. His people and his wife Corey all killed.”
“Koori. The people of Earth were interested in a killer of humans?”
“Of course. Many people fought to save him. I signed a petition myself. The petitions meant little because of the justice system, but we had to show we didn’t approve of what other humans had done. Millions of names.”
“That surprises and pleases me. About the angels. Do they all look like this?”
“Basically. Some have golden hair or golden feathers. Do you think Hawk’s people were angels?”
He chuckled. “Hardly. They were mortal and fallible too. Perhaps they were the original source of the legend.” He paused. “According to our history, I mean. . . they left Earth before recorded human history. They could not have been the original source.”
“Maybe they all didn’t leave. Some got left behind.” She added whimsically, “Like the unicorns in Noah’s Ark.”
“Perhaps they chose to remain. They did not wish to leave their home planet.”
“I can’t really blame them for that.”
“Neither can I. Perhaps they were curious and hopeful about the new creature man.” He smiled as another thought came. “Perhaps they wished to lead this new being to greater aspirations. A better future.”
“They did, too. In the Bible the angels were messengers of God. They carried words of hope and wisdom. Our whole religious outlook was from the words of the angels. We may owe a lot of what’s decent in us to Hawk’s people who stayed behind to help us.”
Hawk chuckled. “We change history between us on the evidence of a few paintings.”
The girl grinned sheepishly. “Yes, but I believe it. It sounds true. Do you?”
“Yes, I too believe. This poem?”
“It’s about the birth of Christ. The angels told the world of His birth and of the importance of peace. ‘Peace on earth; good will to men.’”
“So my people thought this message and this birth important,” Hawk murmured to himself.
“Would you like to see my favorite angel picture? We sell the reproductions.” At his nod, the girl brought out a large painting from behind the counter and set it before Hawk.
The painting was of two figures. A human youth and an angel/avian. His hand outstretched in yearning, the youth stood upon his toes. The angel/avian hovered above him his hand grasping the human’s hand.
Hawk shook his head in wonder. Was it a hand clasp of friendship or brotherhood, or was it preparation for shared flight? Perhaps it was all three and more. The tension between the two bodies was overwhelming. As if both figures were but taut pieces of a whole humming with energy and completion at that touch. The tension between the earth and sky holding the universe together. One figure without the other would be meaningless and lifeless.
“The painting’s called ‘The Brotherhood of the Soul’ by an unknown artist,” the girl said. “Have you noticed the faces?”
“It is the same person,” Hawk said with sudden understanding and acceptance of the painting’s truth.
As he studied the faces, his eyes widened, and he began to laugh. “‘I have been had’ to quote Buck. Who’s idea was this? Yours, Ari's, or Buck’s, Tiber?”
The shop girl touched the base of her throat. Long blond hair became short chestnut hair; blue eyes, gray. Body, face, and shape changed. A tall, handsome woman stood laughing before Hawk. “Ari and I.”
“Buck is not so subtle. I knew it must be you when I saw Ari’s face in the painting. I remember your style from your paintings aboard the Helios.”
Pausing, he shook his head and spoke with mock exasperation, “You are here again to rearrange my life. Always you come. What wisdom do you have for me this time?”
“The Wise Woman of the West has nothing to say for a change.” She smiled. “You understand already the message of the painting. I need tell you no more. Besides, the message is Ari's, not mine. I merely carried out his orders.”
“He was rightly named after a great avian warrior leader. He outmaneuvered us all.”
“He knew that you and Buck were fighting about his future as either avian or human. You would not listen seriously to him so he chose this way.”
“I understand the message, and I agree regretfully. He is both worlds, and without both worlds he is not whole. I will abide by his wish.” Hawk sighed wistfully. “I fear that my world will die without him. He is the only hope of the future my race has left. The humans have so many other hopes.”
“The aspirations of the angels. A gift passed from one race to another.”
Sadness filled him. “The shop girl’s talk of angels. It was not true?”
“It was true, Hawk. As true as it was when we spoke it. I believe it anyway.”
“And the petitions?”
“They existed. I didn’t sign one, but I would have if I’d been on Earth at the time. On the other hand, if I’d known you then, I’d have been planning your escape from the Searcher.” Mischief danced like quicksilver in her gray eyes.
“We would have escaped disguised as boulders,” Hawk said with pretended seriousness.
“A perfect idea. You’ve often said that Buck couldn’t find a boulder in a sandpit.”
“No sandpits on the Searcher. Will you help me Christmas shop? I seem to be suddenly in need of Christmas presents. I have done Ari's shopping. Now I must do my own. I do not wish to go to Wilma’s empty-handed.”
“I’d love to. How about some paintings? I happen to know an artist.” She pulled out some paintings from behind the counter and spread them out. They were family-style group portraits of Hawk, Ari, and their friends.
“Perfect, thank you. But you are not there.”
“For that comment, you can have these cheap. And here’s Ari’s present to you. He could not let you shop for yourself.” She pulled out the original of “The Brotherhood of the Soul.”
“It is more beautiful than the copy, and Ari's face is more recognizable. I thank you, and I will thank Ari.”
“You’re quite welcome. I’ll see if I can find some mistletoe so you can thank me properly.” She grinned wickedly. “I love some ancient Earth customs.”
She wrapped up the book and the paintings and handed them to him. “Shall we go? I’d like to visit Ari in his bed of pain.”
“The flu is not a pain, only an annoyance. He will be pleased his plan worked.”
“Yes, he’s eager to try the 25th Century’s version of an old-fashioned Christmas.”
“Which Christmas Spirit are you? Past, Present, or Future?” When she tilted her head in confusion, he added, “Scrooge. Bah. Humbug.”
“Oh. All three, of course. My people travel time. I’m time ubiquitous.”
“Of course. Well ‘God bless us every one’ anyway.”
“He will, Hawk. We are on the side of the angels after all.”
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