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A COPPER BREASTED SPARROW circumvented the tree line. Flapping, he savored natural scents of Earth that lingered in the wind: coppice, flora, even rain beneath layers of clay and loam soil. Milk of woodland saplings blended with compound complexities of bodily secretions from nocturnal creatures marking territory or warding off peril.
The little bird surveyed the silence of twilight amidst a new smell of burning that explained a curl of black smoke in the horizon. He fluttered lime mottled wings and landed on a tremulous branch. So this was Ngoni Village, he mused. The warm heart of German East Africa. He reined himself with the tips of his claws. Leaned his body outward a touch with a subtle shift of weight on the bough. His face twisted skyward, where a giant bird soared in a battle dance overhead.
Broad wings slowed to deliberate motion. Suddenly, the eagle froze. Gleaming eyes angled at the limb of the thorn tree. He swooped, talons outstretched with skill, power and a wild cry.
Eagle and tiny sparrow toppled in a downward shred of branch, twigs, leaves, and a curtain of red and lime-mottled fluff entangled in silver eagle feathers. The little bird floated out first. Preened himself callously and hopped two steps away in good recovery on firm ground.
"Surely, Papa!" he said.
Papa was Zhorr, the grand magician of Diaspora. He looked a touch abashed. "I did not mean to loosen your feathers, sonny." Cleared his throat. "Well!" He looked around. A gust of something burning swept up his nostrils. It grew stronger, wilder in the air, wild enough to push rain clouds away.
"This bird thing won't do," Pickle, his son, said. "Now what? Mmhh? What!"
"We go to the village."
"Like this? Birds?"
"And that troubles you, I see," said Zhorr. "Pretty much everything displeases you, ingrate lad, so why should I stand surprised with your cawing now?"
"Well! Having traveled back in time to build a picture of history, we'll be dinner in a human's pot before we can catch up with that past. Imagine the possibilities: skinned or feathered, how will they eat us? Apprentice, guinea pig or bird, Papa, I do not goad fate."
"Relax. We won't be birds long. But we need to observe before we can morph and fit in."
"Fit? We could have fitted in better had we done the vortex. Churn, swirl, a blast of color and schwash! Right into this world in our normal forms. Why come as birds?"
"No mess, no structural changes," Zhorr said. "The black hole causes atomic fusions and chemical transfigurations. Flying in was safe. Safer! I understand your frustration. You must appreciate 3059 to 1905 AD is a hell lot of years. The journey was long."
"No kidding. So why birds again?"
"You make an awful sparrow," Zhorr said in exasperation. He swirled.
Monster wings flapped and a swell of rapid air slapped Pickle to the ground. He lifted on two legs, dazed. Sniffed around, scratched his ear and landed back on fours, a reddish brown mouse.
"That better?" the grand magician asked.
Copyright © 2006 Eugen M. Bacon.