Ropes Course

Happy birthday to Simon Roy! He makes scifi comics and has a Patreon. Yup. Go give him money and read his stuff.

And if you want something more to read, here’s a new Fellow Tetrapod story.

“Shambling ape!” Cawed the Pick ambassador. “I demand to know the function of this barbaric term: ‘team-building session’!”

“It’s a ropes course,” I said as heartily as I could. “It’s supposed to foster bonds of comradeship through a sense of shared danger.”

Ambassador Soughing to the Lower Northeast cocked her head at me. First one beady eye, then the other focused on the trees the ropes the zip-lines. She shifted position, titanium-wrapped claws scratching across the shoulder-perch of her slave hominid. “You think heights are dangerous?” A human might have snickered. Ambassador Soughing shat off her mount’s shoulder.

I pulled myself up the nearest ladder. “We can’t fly.”

“So your plan is to abase yourself before me!”

“No,” I muttered. I just didn’t think this through very well.”

I was fifteen feet off the ground now and feeling dizzy.

Soughing cawed laughter. “I am amused by your antics! Undress me.”

That last was a command to her mount, which gently pulled off Soughing’s harness of golden chain, her platinum and mother-of-pearl helmet, and the titanium tines on her talons. The slave-hominid removed Soughing’s iridescent samite and neatly folded them, leaving the ambassador nude and ready for flight.

Or so I assume happened. I wasn’t watching because I was afraid of looking down. All I knew was that as I was reaching up toward the rope platform, a giant sapient raven flapped up behind me and dug her talons into my scalp.

“Ow!” I said.

“Yes!” she crowed. “I hurt you!”

Pick psychology is very different from human. It isn’t just that they’re all assholes.

Scalp stinging and the smell of Soughing’s preen oil in my nose, I hauled myself onto the platform and stood.

“Yes,” the Pick Ambassador said. “Now walk across the rope to the next tree. Hold out your arms for balance and spread your fingers. Yes! It looks as though you’re trying to fly, but you can’t fly, you silly primate! You if you lose your balance, you’ll fall.” More laughter.

“Well,” I said, sliding my feet along the rope and, yes, holding out my arms, “at least my fear of heights is stronger than my embarrassment.”

“Oh, but that will come later,” Soughing flew past me to perch on the rope in front of me.
While I swallowed bile and tried to deal with the ripples from her landing, her white feathers bristled. She puffed up her throat sack and boomed: “slave, take our picture! ‘Caption: UN/Pick relations soar to new heights.’ Much sarcasm!”

I didn’t look at the slave-hominid with the camera. That would mean looking down.

The rope swayed under me. My rib cage vibrated with my frantic heartbeats. I tried to remind myself I was wearing an anti-gravity vest. When that didn’t work, I tried to imagine that the ground was only a few inches under the robe. Yes, that’s right. I wasn’t twenty feet up after all. I was just walking along a rope on a pretty sunny day and if I fell, it wouldn’t –

“Look at me, I’m a flightless hominid,” screamed Soughing, and she launched herself from the rope.

“Shit!” I cried as my eyes followed her and the took in whole terrifying volume of empty air around me.

The rope shimmied. My arms flailed. I fought for balance. Found it.

Soughing flapped into my face and seized my shoulder.

I shrieked, jumped backward, and fell off the rope.

Slowly.

The vest’s anti-gravity field kicked in, which was good, I suppose. I didn’t think so at the time, though, since it gave me a nice slow fall in which Sough could slap me with her wings and claw my sweater to ribbons. She didn’t let go the whole way down.

Once we’d landed and I’d caught my breath and gotten my anger under control, I asked. “Why did you do that?”

“Pratfall,” Ambassador Soughing hopped to the ground and looked up at me. “Humiliation of monkey falling from tree.” She looked at me through the other eye. “And a lesson in humility me as well.”

“You could have just let go and glided down.” I grumbled, not understanding that last bit. “You didn’t have to hold on to me while I fell.”

“You didn’t have to climb a tree and walk along a rope.” Soughing nibbled at her tail feathers.”Falling is gene-deep fear for a human. For a raven, the fear is flightlessness. So I shared your plummet.”

I stared at her.

Ambassador Soughing gave her wings a flap and puffed out her throat. “I declare this team to have been built!”

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