MORFS: Higher and Higher 09

Acts of Humanity 3:

Higher and Higher
(Part 09)
A MORFS Universe Tale
by Ray Drouillard

Tina Shepherd was in the final stages of dying a slow death due to cancer when she met the Martins and their friends.

sex: 1/10
violence: 6/10
profanity: 2/10

Categories: Hybrid, Elemental, PSI

Timeline: 2060


Chapter Thirty: Fly higher

"Hey FOD, this lounge is for real pilots."

I didn't turn my head to look, but it wasn't difficult to locate the source of the insult.

"Timmy, you need to go apologize to those people. I don't want to hear you spouting any more of your Uncle Joe's bigoted nonsense."

Jerry and I turned to look at a group of people who were approaching us. An older gentleman had his hands on both shoulders of a young teen. "I'm sorry for my rude comment," he said with a distinct lack of sincerity.

I sighed. "Apology accepted."

Jerry fixed him with a glare and pulled out his log book. "We're fully instrument rated, and just finished our check flight on a Piper Cub IV. It's a bit faster than we are, but it's a pain having to land at an airport.

I smirked at him. "Hey Bird Boy, he did apologize."

"Yeah, but I think he still believes that 'Foreign Object Damage' cut -- as if we were going to let ourselves get sucked into a jet engine." Jerry paused for a second. "Hey, wait a minute! What's with the 'Bird Boy' comment?" He sniffed dramatically. "It's 'Golden Eagle,' I'll have you know!"

I snickered at him. "Some of us get to choose our nicknames; and some, like our good friend Captain Peeper, have it bestowed by others."

He rolled his eyes. "Anything you say, Catbird."

I smirked at him and gave him a kiss on the cheek. Then, I fished my Personal Avionics Package out of my utility belt and took a look at the small display. "It looks like our ride will be here in about ten minutes."

Jerry pointed to a small dot that was visible through the large observation window. "There they are."

Despite himself, Timmy walked over to the window and looked out. "Where?"

Jerry pointed. "Compass heading 282. They're moving pretty fast, so they ought to be visible with normal, unaugmented vision soon."

A couple minutes later, Timmy pointed. "There it is! It looks like one of those LBSC Swifts."

"Yep, a Swift III. The Martins have one so that they can travel hither and yon giving lectures at the various colleges around the country."

"World," I said. "They lecture worldwide."

"Aren't those things dangerous? I mean, what happens if they lose those fancy-dancy lifters of theirs? They can't have much of a glide ratio."

Jerry reminded me of Professor Kim as he went into geek mode. "There are enough lift repulsors to carry three times the Swift's gross weight, and each lifter is supplied with no less than four power cables. The power is supplied by a dozen power cells that are scattered about the airframe. Two thirds of them can fail and the Swift will still have enough power to hover and land. If the computer fails, there is a very simple backup system hooked up to the cyclic and collective controls. It's a bit tricky to fly it that way, but it can be done with practice."

"My boyfriend the geek," I said with a smirk.

"You studied all this stuff, too," he replied. "Don't try to tell me that you don't enjoy it."

"I do," I admitted, "but not to quite the extent that you do."

"If I recall, you're the one who gleefully engineered that little failure where the lift repulsors died and I had to land the thing on its tail. Now that was just mean!"

I gave my best evil villain laugh. "Aren't you happy that you know what to do in the unlikely event of a total lift motor failure?"

He rolled his eyes. "Maybe you ought to set the computer to simulate holing by a meteorite. That, at least, is slightly more likely."

Timmy's father followed our conversation with some amusement. "I see that you two know your aircraft. What got you interested in flying?"

I grinned and unfurled my wings. "I studied the ground school books to avoid becoming FOD. That motivated me to acquire and learn to use a PAP." I pulled the small instrument from my utility belt. "Since we already had a large fraction of the training required to become a pilot, Jerry and I decided to get some flight simulation programs and go all the way. Watching the Martins flit about the continent gave us additional incentive."

"Are these Martins the famous husband/wife team of MORFS researchers that got turned into kitty girls a few months ago?"

"Yep, those are the ones," I said. "It's easy to be impressed by their intellect, but I can tell you from personal experience that they are wonderful people that don't let all that stuff go to their heads."

He looked at our wings. "Can I ask you a kind of personal question?"

"Sure," I said.

"How do you maneuver without any kind of rudder or tail?"

"Our wings are fully mobile. We can adjust the position and angle of attack on each wing independently," Jerry replied as he spread his wings and demonstrated by moving them forward and back, and twisting them independently. "We move our wings forward to climb, and back to go into a dive. We increase the angle of attack on the outward wing when we want to bank. It's kind of like controlling a sail board, but a whole lot more intuitive."

Timmy, fascinated despite himself, said, "It sounds like a whole lot of fun!"

"There is nothing like it," I assured him.

The Swift III approached the main runway like an ordinary fixed-wing aircraft, but veered at the last second and hovered over a large helipad. We walked to the door of the pilots' lounge as it settled to the surface. *We'll meet you in the lounge,* Kim sent. *It's time for the Swift's annual inspection. Once the Airframe & Powerplant mechanic is done with it, the flight instructor will get you for your check flight.*

We walked back to the big window just in time to see Kim and Sara exit the aircraft. They were followed by Cindy, Larry, Cara, Amy, Jim, and a whole crew of people. Even Mom and Dad were there, carrying Gregory, their kitty Sevannah, and Jerry's kitty Brianna. We walked and met them at the door, and Gregory and Brianna immediately attached themselves to us. "What's up?" Jerry asked.

"We're taking a bit of a trip after you two get certified," replied Sara.

"Where?" I asked.

"It's a surprise," smirked Cindy.

"And don't even think of peeking in my mind," said Amy.

"I wouldn't even dream of it," I said as I made a show of looking around. "Now, where's a pillow when you need one?"

Kim chuckled and led us over to a table that gave us a view of the helipad. A waitress came and took our orders. We watched as the A&P mechanic crawled all over the Swift, using special scanning instruments to check for hidden cracks in the airframe, plugging into the computer system, and meticulously checking each power cell, Synergy thruster, and aerodynamic control. The computer had a complete diagnostic program that checks all systems, but a good inspector likes to see things first-hand.

After about an hour and a half of going through the inspection check list, he made some random checks of his own. Finally, he got into the pilot's seat, taxied to the runway, and lifted off. He took a quick flight around the airport -- perhaps a bit longer than strictly necessary. After putting the Swift through its paces, he set it down on the helipad. The inspector wore a big smile as he walked in the door.

"I thought you were off today, Joe," Kim commented.

"I'm always on duty when you need something done with your Swift," he replied. He looked around and asked, "Where's those two kids that need their check ride?"

"That would be us," Jerry replied as we stood up and handed our cats to Mom.

"I'm sure you guys will do just fine. You look like naturals to me," he chuckled as he led us out to the Swift.

He watched us carefully as we each did a preflight inspection. He quizzed us about the aircraft and asked us to explain each step. Finally satisfied, he asked us to get behind the controls.

"You seem to like the Swift," Jerry commented.

Joe grinned. "The first Swifts were as safe as any other craft of the time, but they still ended up getting a bad rep. 'Glide ratio of a rock,' people liked to say. Since the people who buy business jets are big on safety, the LBSC engineers went into total paranoid mode. This thing has redundancy on its backup systems. You're safer in the Swift than in your own living room."

"Yeah, I can definitely appreciate that," Jerry said. "I'll be going for my engineering degree in a few years, so I like to get into that engineering mind set."

"You have succeeded with that one," I said to him with a smirk.

Jerry took off first. Joe had him go up to 24,000 feet, then simulated some failures. Jerry handled everything with practiced ease. Much impressed, Joe asked him to land. Then, it was my turn.

I was cruising easily at 30,000 feet when Jerry whispered something to Joe. "Don't give him any bright ideas," I said to Jerry.

Joe set up a virtual floor at 28,000 feet. The Heads Up display showed what looked like a flat plain two thousand feet below us. I had to use the manual controls to land on that floor. I landed, then lifted and hovered a thousand feet above the virtual floor. I was about to switch back to computer control when the bottom dropped out on me. The Synergy Lifters had failed.

I pushed the throttle for the forward thrusters all the way and pulled back on the stick. The aircraft started to go forward, but it was dropping rapidly. As the nose pitched up, the thrust started lifting the Swift. As it started to gain altitude, I backed off on the throttle. Soon, I was balancing the craft on its tail. I stuck my tongue out at Jerry, then increased the thrust. When the Swift was going fast enough to fly aerodynamically, I pitched it forward and cruised along as if nothing had happened.

Joe restored power to the lifters and asked me to land. He signed our paperwork and used his eCom to send the information to the FAA. He shook our hands. "Congratulations. You are now rated to fly the LBSC Swift III." We exited the Swift and high-fived each other.

*I take it you both passed,* Sara sent with a chuckle. *You might as well turn around and get back in the cockpit. We need to get moving.*

*Where are we going?* Jerry asked.

*Go ahead and file a flight plan for the University of Sun City airstrip with a departure time of twenty minutes from now,* Kim said.

It took us less than five minutes to check the weather, type everything into the computer, and transmit the plan to the control tower. Fifteen minutes after that, we lifted off.

Chapter Thirty-One: Sun City

As we were approaching Sun City, Kim came into the cockpit and sat in the jump seat. "This is your captain speaking." She looked at the two of us as we flew the plane. "Correction: This is your admiral speaking. The captains are busy flying the aircraft."

Of course, we weren't that busy. We were about to be, though. It was time to take the Swift off of autopilot.

"Ladies and gentlemen. If you look out the port windows, or on the display screen, you will see Sun Valley. Sun Valley looks like an East-West gash in the mountains and is about one hundred miles long by twenty-five miles wide. The founders searched long and hard for a suitable valley. The cliff to the North keeps the worse of the winds from the city, while the gentle slopes to the South allow the sun to fully illuminate the valley. The fact that the valley goes from East to West allows the city to be illuminated by the low sun at the beginning and end of each day. The flat floor of the valley is mostly silt and sand that was deposited by the river that runs through it. Sun River, as it has been renamed, supplies the city with municipal water, and keeps Sun Lake full. The climate controlled area is an ellipse about twenty-five miles North/South by fifty miles East/West. The area of the city is just shy of 1600 square miles. Since Sun City is home to just shy of a million souls, the population density is about 630 people per square mile, or slightly less than one person per acre. Of course, some of that area is taken up by Sun Lake."

I took manual control of the Swift. I reduced altitude and speed and flew over the cliffs.

"We are currently flying over the North Cliffs, which are climate-controlled to the top. If you look carefully, you will see balconies. There is a whole hive of apartments, offices, research laboratories, and agricultural caves dug into the rock. The homes with balconies are expensive, but worth it for the view. Since they are built vertically, and handle a large fraction of the city's population, the rest of the city looks less crowded than would otherwise be expected."

We continued to circumnavigate the city. I was careful to keep well away from the climate controlled area. The city is a haven for flight-enhanced morfs because it is warm year 'round. Some human flyers can't fly well in colder air. Membrane wings, like those found in bat and dragon hybrids, tend to lose lots of heat to the ambient air.

"Sun Lake is one of the crowning jewels of Sun City. It was purposely created with a convoluted shore to allow for as much coastal area as possible. The shore is taken up by condominiums, private homes, parkland, nature areas, fishing piers, marinas, and the university. Most of the shoreline is sand beach."

I further reduced our altitude as we rounded the Western edge and headed for the university's airfield. Jerry contacted the tower and obtained clearance for landing.

"If you look at the crosshairs on the view screen, you'll see a peninsula jutting into Sun Lake. That peninsula contains about two dozen detached condominiums that are administered by the University of Sun City. Two of them will be coming under new ownership after the end of this school year, and another will change hands a year later."

Kim smiled at us, but didn't say anything. Her public mind showed nothing but generalized smugness.

"The university and prep school jointly own a strip of land two miles long and half a mile wide that goes from Sun Lake, through the climate control border, and part of the way up the Southern slope. The edge is about half a mile from the convoluted shore, so the school jointly owns a little more than a quarter of a square mile of warm area -- 168 acres, to be exact. Also, the the schools own about a mile and a half of shoreline. This is taken up by an office building, several buildings full of classrooms, a bunch of dorms, some docks, and plenty of swimming beach."

The airfield was easy to spot because it was cleared of snow. I landed on a helipad and switched to taxi mode, which made the Swift handle like a wheeled vehicle. I pulled it into the assigned slip and let it settle to the ground. As Jerry and I were going through the shutdown checklist, a group of people emerged from the pilots' lounge. They greeted the Professors Martin, then introductions were exchanged. I hadn't realized how many friends that the Martins had in Sun City.

After we checked into the university's guest hostel, the Martins' friends dragged us to a coffee shop that seems to be a favorite among the students and faculty. We kept getting interrupted by faculty members and researchers who recognized the Martins. I could tell that they were getting overwhelmed by the warm welcome that they were receiving. We would have felt like we were on the outside looking in, except that the Professors Martin made a point of introducing all of us in glowing terms.

We were introduced again to Doctor Miller, who introduced us to her wife Amy. She wasn't showing yet, but my bio senses told me that she was pregnant. I got the impression of a cute little white kitty hybrid. The baby should come some time near the end of June.

Sara glanced at her watch and looked at Kim. Kim nodded, then stood up. "My other half informs me that we need to get moving if we are to make our appointment. I asked Mom what the appointment was all about, but she just gave me a knowing smirk.

Soon, we were all packed into the van and heading toward Sun Lake. I called up a road map on my PAP and used the GPS function to put a 'we are here' dot on the screen. "It looks like we're heading for that peninsula with all the detached condos," I said to nobody in particular.

Soon, we were driving slowly through a residential loop. Kim pulled into a driveway and announced, "We're here!" As we were piling out of the van, we were greeted by an older couple. Kim introduced them as Professors Jim and Dinah Stanfield, and said that they would be retiring to their family home in Hawaii after the end of this school year.

With obvious pride, Jim and Dinah showed us their yard and house. The back yard, which is the part that can be seen from the road, contains a garage, small vegetable garden, and a small play yard with a swing set and playscape that they built for when the grandchildren visit. The front yard is large, and contains a deck, pool, several palm trees, lots of tropical flowering plants, and a hundred feet of sandy beach. Jutting out into the lake is a dock with a pontoon boat, a twenty foot sloop-rigged sail boat, and a number of small 'jet ski' type personal watercraft. "We have buyers for the watercraft, but we can arrange for them to go with the house," the Stanfields commented.

The inside of the condo is every bit as impressive as the outside. The basement is actually bigger than the rest of the house, and will serve well for the Martins' labs. The ground floor is dominated by a great room with a large expanse of glass overlooking the lake. Both Kim and Sara were delighted by the large and well laid out kitchen. The top floor contains six bedrooms, all with en suite bathrooms, and all opening to a balcony that overlooks the great room and, through the huge window, the lake.

They had already pretty much settled on a price through the real estate agents, so it was a simple matter to sign some paperwork and set an appointment for the final closing on Monday. The was for the Stanfields to finish out the school year in their house, and for the Martins to take possession a week after school lets out.

"You mean we don't get to spend one last summer at home?" complained Larry.

"You have a job to do here," Kim smirked. "You'll be getting out of school just in time to help take a load off of Doctor Sanura so she can concentrate on the birth of her baby girl."

"It's a good thing you're a fast learner," I said to him with a chuckle. "It's also fortunate that first pregnancies tend to go a bit on the long side."

Our next stop was right next door. The details of the house and yard were different, but it was every bit as nice. Amy and Cara squealed with delight when Sue told them that this would be their new house. Cara then hugged Larry and said, "Being neighbors is almost as good as living in the same house."

To my surprise, we rode a quarter of a mile and pulled into a third house. I mentally went through the list of people in this little expedition. Kim, Sara, Larry, and Cindy would be living in the first house. Sue, Cara, and Amy would be living in the second.

"Who's going to live in this house?" I asked.

"We are," Mom replied.

"What about the farm?"

"Grandpa and Grandma will be taking care if it," Dad said. "You'll be living in the dorms at the prep school for your junior year, and we'll be living on the farm. The summer after that, after the people who live here retire, we'll move in. You'll still technically have to live in the dorms for your senior year, but you'll be coming home for the weekends."

I boggled, then looked the house over in earnest. While I was going to miss our 160 acre farm, this home would be a great consolation prize. I looked at the beautiful yard with a pool and lake access, plenty of room to fly year 'round, and wilderness to explore during the summer.

I was sure I'd see my grandparents as often as I had before, and they'd be healthier and more fun to be around. It'd be hard being away from my parents for that year when they're still at the farm, but I'd be able to talk to them through their links with Savannah, their flying kitty. I'd miss Ginny, but not the winters. This place is beautiful.

"Earth calling Tina. Come in Tina," Jerry said with a chuckle.

"Sorry. I'm just thinking about how things are changing." I smiled, then leapt into the air. I flew out over the lake and looked at the three houses that would be home for my friends and family. I could sense the climate control boundary overhead. Since we were less than a mile away from the edge of Sun City, it wasn't very high.

Jerry leapt after me, followed by my parents. We took a few loops around our future neighborhood, then landed in our future front yard.

"So, why are you waiting an extra year?" I asked my parents.

"For one thing," said Dad, "I want to run the farm with your grandpa for a year so that we can make a smooth change of management."

"The main thing," said Mom, "is that I want to be there when you become a niece again."

I sat there dumbfounded while my parents smirked and positively radiated smugness. "I already am a niece," I said.

"The key word is 'again,'" said Dad with an aggravating chuckle.

I looked around and noticed that everyone seemed to be enjoying my confusion. Mom decided to drop another hint. "Grandma and Grandpa have been enjoying their newfound health so much that it didn't occur to them that certain long dormant parts of their bodies had started working again."

I puzzled over that one for a moment, then my jaw dropped. "Grandma's... pregnant?" Dad caught me as I staggered a bit. "I guess this isn't the best time to be running off to Sun City."

"Grandma assures me that she has done it without my help before, and that she can do it again," Mom said. "Still, I'm sure that she's secretly happy that we'll be around for the birth and the first few months of your new little uncle's life."

"I'm going to spoil him rotten when I visit for the summer and holidays," I said with a smirk. Then, on a hunch, I focused my bio senses on my mother. "I'm going to spoil my little brother rotten, too."

This time, it was Mom who looked like she was about to faint. "You're kidding," she said to me.

"Nope," I said with a smirk. "MORFS tends to fix everything up."

"Well, Dear, we always wished we could have more children," Dad said to Mom.

Mom's face went through several emotions -- shock, disbelief, hope, then radiant happiness. She wrapped her arms around Dad and me, held us tight, and sobbed. I cuddled in closer and Dad stroked her hair.

"Flying kitty people definitely run in our family now," I told Mom an Dad. "The genes are going to breed true. My little brother is going to be a very energetic little red point. Keeping him busy is going to be a challenge." Mom smiled softly and put her hand on her belly.

The sun was heading for the horizon when several lights appeared in the sky. "During the winter, light elementals make sure that Sun City gets at least thirteen hours of light. There was some controversy about the practice at first, but most people like it. The extra light helps keep people from getting depressed in the winter, helps the plants, and helps the tourism industry," Professor Kim commented.

"How can winter depress people around here?" I asked.

"It's called SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder," said Doctor Kim in full professor mode. "When the days are short, people naturally get depressed. Some people aren't bothered much, but others are profoundly affected. It is often treated with lots of bright lights in the home -- especially the bedroom. That isn't necessary here, thought."

"Don't some people miss the sunset?" asked Sue.

"You can see plenty of sunsets in the summer. Besides, there are a number ski lodges and restaurants outside the main city -- some of which are domed. Anyone who wants a romantic dinner with a sunset can go to one of those. They are especially popular on nights with a full moon," Sara said.

"Speaking of nice, cozy dinners," said Kim, "We need to have dinner and settle in for the night. Tomorrow promises to be a long day."

(End of part nine)


The entire MORFS Universe can be found at http://morfs.nowhere2go.org/
More writing and photography by Ray Drouillard at http://ray-d.deviantart.com/


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