TO SOAR LIKE A BIRD
TO SOAR LIKE A BIRD
Steve was getting ready to take a nap following a hard day’s work at the robot factory, pressing buttons for three hours straight. He sighed; life in the year 2025 was certainly no walk in the park.
He was heading for the tiny bedroom in his conapt when the wall screen started playing that old classic “All You Need Is Love,” the alert tone he’d designated for incoming calls from Allison.
He called out “Answer,” and a moment later his girlfriend’s image appeared on the center of the wall. She was a pretty, young woman, with an oval face, bright blue eyes, shoulder-length blonde hair, and a smile that could be warm and friendly when she was in one of her better moods. But when she wasn’t . . . .
Allison was flashing that friendly smile now, while she sat in her favorite living room chair stroking Sapphire, her beloved black Persian cat. Steve had never gotten along with that cat . . . but he breathed a sigh of relief at Allison’s apparent good mood.
Returning her smile, he said, “Hi, babe, didn’t expect to hear from you so soon after last night. I thought you said we were finished as a couple.”
Allison shrugged and grinned. “Oh come on,” she teased. “Forget about that silly quarrel–I already have. All is forgiven. I just got the neatest hi-tech toy and wanted you to come over right now and play with me.”
She was right, Steve thought, the fight had been silly–something about his talking to a former girlfriend who had recently resurfaced. It had only been a casual conversation, but Allison could be so jealous at times.
“Sure thing, babe,” he said. “I’ll be at your conapt in twenty.”
When he arrived at her place, Allison introduced him to her new gadget, which consisted of a large computer screen, a complex-looking control panel, and two hi-tech-looking helmets positioned over two adjoining bucket seats.
“What the heck?” he said.
“It’s a virtual animal-reality simulator. It allows you to experience and feel the real-life reality of any animal it has a program for. You can be a lion in the jungle, a shark in the ocean, just about anything you can think of. I can’t wait to try it out.”
“What’s the big deal? Virtual reality devices have been around for decades.”
“This is a brand new and improved model. You not only see and hear things from an animal’s prospective, you actually become that thing. If you do a lion, you actually feel and sense the same as a lion does. If you choose a bird, it’s like you become a bird flying in the air! That’s what I want us to do!”
“We could be big, fierce American eagles,” he said. “That would be pretty neat.”
“Nah,” she replied. “I want to be something small and cute, like a robin redbreast.”
Steve said, “Okay.” He shrugged–why fight about it? He was just happy to have Allison back on board as his girlfriend.
The couple assumed their places in the twin bucket seats. Allison began fiddling with the controls. At her direction, Steve placed the plastic helmet over his head. It was a strange feeling: the helmet covered up every part of his face down past his mouth. After being set fully in place, the helmet began to automatically adjust to match his facial features. He felt plastic cups fitting themselves over his eyes and form-fitting earbuds inserting themselves into his ear channels. There was a thin metal headband for mental stimulation, and a special communications feature, which Allison had explained would allow them to speak to each other when they were occupying their animal avatars.
“Okay, love, let’s take off,” said Allison, a metallic voice coming through his earbuds.
There was a soft mechanical hum, a blurring of light, and then, almost like magic, Steve found himself soaring through clear blue sky, with emptiness all around him. He pivoted his head left, then all around, and realized that he was now a tiny creature with brown feathery wings and a bright red breast. He could feel his wings working fast, and, with muscular effort, he could speed them up or slow them down. He could even hear his super-fast heartbeat, much faster than what a human experienced. He really was a robin, flying through a bright, sun-washed sky. Steve turned his head and saw a bright scarlet-breasted robin flying side-by-side with him.
“Allison?” he called out, using the mental communicator contained in his helmet.
“Yes, it’s me, dummy. Isn’t this wonderful?”
“It’s amazing! We’re not just flying like birds–it’s like I actually am a bird!
“Told you so.”
They passed through a moist, grey cloud, and Steve could feel the dampness on his body and in his breath. Then they once again emerged into blue sky, and he could see groves of trees below and a spectacular mountain range on the horizon. He felt exhilarated, sailing through the warm afternoon sky over gentle hills and green valleys. The couple glided through the air with a free and abandoned joy, turning, climbing, and spinning about, as the mood struck them.
“Isn’t this great, honey?” Allison said.
“It sure is!”
“What’s that up there?”
Steve turned his head up to see two grey-winged, white-breasted hawks circling above, apparently sizing up the two tiny robins as prey.
“It’s a couple of hawks. Looks like something that might want to eat us! What happens if something bad happens to us while we’re using this gadget?”
Allison paused for a moment, then said, “Don’t recall reading anything about that in the instructions. Maybe we don’t want to find out.”
“Let’s get out of here,” Steve said, and they both began flapping their wings faster and harder to speed away.
“Let’s try to lose them in that grove of trees below.”
They sped away fast, and the two hawks took off after them in pursuit. Steve and Allison dashed between tree trunks and branches, trying not to get too far from each other as they made a desperate dash away from the two predators.
Finally, after dodging and weaving for a quarter mile, Steve heard Allison call out in his ear, “Steve, I need to stop and rest. I’m sure we’ve lost them, and besides, I’m feeling pretty pooped. Can you hear me, love?”
“Yeah, I’m here,” he said, looking about, but not seeing Allison’s robin avatar. “Keep on talking, describe where you’re at, and I’ll try to find you.”
In a few minutes, Steve found her sitting on a low-hanging tree branch.
“Guess what dear–this is an apricot tree grove. And look at that nice, ripe apricot over there. Let’s have a snack.”
Steve glided down into the grove and alighted near Allison, taking a spot right next to a juicy-looking piece of fruit hanging down from the branch above. Steve nibbled the plump fruit with his sharp beak, piecing the thin red and yellow skin, and tasting the sweet juices pop into his mouth. This was great! He savored the fruit, losing track of everything else around him.
After eating the fruit for a few minutes he felt satiated. He looked around for Allison, but she wasn’t around.
“Allison, where are you?” he called out repeatedly, but there was no response.
Allison’s robin avatar was nowhere to be found. He flew around the trees, searching for the bright red-breasted bird, but she wasn’t there. After circling the tree repeatedly in a fruitless search, Steve alighted on one of the lower branches to rest. He was feeling winded, all this flying about was tiring.
Then he heard the low snarl of an animal. Steve recognized that sound from somewhere. Of course–it was Sapphire, Allison’s black Persian cat. Then he heard Allison’s unmistakable mocking laugh. He released one desperate scream of pain, as sharp powerful cat teeth ripped into his fragile bird throat.
Richard L. Rubin graduated from U.C. Berkeley, with a B.A. in Philosophy, and subsequently obtained a law degree from U.C. Hastings College of Law. For 30 years Richard worked as an appellate lawyer, including the defense of several clients facing the death penalty in California. His science fiction short stories appear in the anthologies Warlords of the Asteroid Belt, Deep Space Dogfights and Fall of the Galactic Empire, all published by Rogue Planet Press. His short story sci-fi thriller Robbery on Antares VI is available on Amazon. Richard is an Associate Member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife, Susanne, and their faithful cat Gladstone. Richard's webpage can be found at: richardlrubin.com.