Edo Opo’te, running late again.
It could not be helped. He had risen early, before dawn, and had expected his wife to see to the children. But Olana felt ill, so Edo had taken it upon himself to make sure that Nefi and Dyara got their breakfast, gathered up their datapads, and made it to the hoverbus stop on time for school. Once the children were away, Edo fetched food, drink, and medicine for Olana so that she could rest in relative comfort while he was at work.
The next Ope’mot city bus wouldn’t make the rounds before the next chiming of the Great Temple bells. He could catch a hovercab, though. Clad in his finest suit, carrying an expensive polished briefcase, Edo walked out onto the sidewalk in front of the Goddess Grace housing complex and flagged down the first in-service cab he saw.
“Uplift Architectural Building,” Edo said as he slid into the back seat of the red-striped teal hovercab, closing the door behind himself.
“SQUAWK,” answered the strange brown and white bird in the wire cage that shared the back seat with the Opodian. It stared at Edo with hungry amber eyes.
“Hero, please, do not cause further embarrassment for Buteo on this beautiful morning,” urged the driver. He was an outverser, one of the humans from beyond the rifts, Edo suspected. He wore a bright yellow suit, with a red-trimmed cape and wide-brimmed hat with a blue feather.
“Your pet?” Edo asked.
“Oh, oh, no,” Buteo replied, shifting the hovercab into drive and pulling out into the ground traffic before activating the ascension jets to get altitude above the city. “Hero is a burden that Buteo has carried for many years, from one universe to the next, and does the animal show any gratitude for the sacrifices Buteo has made? No! No, he does not.” He looked over his shoulder as the cab leveled off. “Do you wish to feed Hero? Hero has not had his breakfast yet. He grows cantankerous when his breakfast is unduly delayed.”
“I…” Edo began, wanting to say that he didn’t want to put his hands anywhere near that bird’s sharp beak.
“Yes, yes,” the cabbie said, “I shall get Hero’s food for you.” He leaned over to pop open the glove compartment door to his right. A white six-legged rodent with a blunt tail and antennae sprung from within, landing on the seat next to Buteo. The human’s eyes widened. “How did you escape your box?” He grabbed for the creature while the car swerved inexorably leftward into oncoming air traffic.
“Don’t you think…” Edo began, but he was cut off by the blaring horn of a hovertruck that had nearly slammed into the cab, but had veered out of the way. The cab straightened out, but remained in a lane that was focused in the opposite direction. He started looking around for an emergency parachute. He found none.
The rodent jumped to avoid Buteo’s beefy hand, landing on the neck rest of the front seat. It peered at Edo with beady black eyes, snout twitching, and then it saw the osprey in the cage.
More importantly, perhaps, the bird saw food. Hero banged his head against the door of the cage just so, so that it swung wide for him.
“Uh,” Edo began, but his words were lost in a maelstrom of flapping wings, shrieking rodent, fierce bird cries, and the panicked admonitions of the driver, whose vehicle was now spiraling madly toward the city streets below as the osprey chased the rodent around the tight confines of the car.
Hero had just managed to down his quarry in a single gulp while perched on Edo’s shoulders, wings spread wide and talons digging through the fine fabric of the Opodian’s suit, when Buteo corrected the dive about two feet off the street and slammed on the brakes. The osprey tumbled forward, taking big patches of suit and some fur and skin with him. Hero sat dazed on the floorboard, momentarily addled.
“Now we go,” Buteo said, reaching to put the cab back in gear.
“No!” Edo yelped. “No, that’s all right. I’ll walk.”