In the interest of enhancing military strength, the Tactical Flight (TF) experiments were initiated. Experiment number TF-1539 was their most promising endeavor; however, the cylinder in which he was grown was too small. So, at the relative age of nine years of age, TF-1539 was birthed. Though programming had been the plan, growing and training would help the scientists to know if this particular DNA mix was worth continuing.
TF-1539 soon came to be called Nine in those first few months of training, and it was soon discovered that he was a very intelligent, very normal boy in everything but his appearance, the most noticeable of which was the addition of enormous, dark brown wings. It was the unexpected size of the wings that prompted his early ‘birth’. They doubled his height when they were folded and stretched to nearly thirty feet when he held them wide.
Once one got past that first overpowering sight, other anomalies could be easily spotted. His arms were the next noticed difference; they were approximately one third shorter than normal and were displaced to the front of the shoulder joint by the wings that dominated that joint. Though the arms and hands were strong and agile, such tasks as lifting heavy weights were very difficult since the muscle and bone structure around the shoulder favored the wings over the arms.
The next thing one noticed was his eyes; they were overly round and alarmingly yellow.
Not so readily noticed as different, was his hair. It covered major sections of his body from the top of his head to the talons on his feet and it was all brown. Though it appeared to be merely hair, in actuality, it was a cross between human hair and soft feathers. Each hair was lined with barbules that held the hair in place next to its neighbor better than hairspray. These barbules faded with the length of hair - wearing off with age. Another detail not easily noticed was the fact that his wings had nothing that resembled pinnate or contour feathers. His wings, were made much like a bat’s, stiffened by very long finger bones instead of stiff feathers though he used them like a bird’s wings; his tail was similar, stiffened by long fine bones and manipulated by the muscle structure of his butt and his back.
During the first months in the lab, Nine wore a loose fitting gown that reached below his knees. From there to the floor, Nine was very bird, though he had five toes instead of four - four toes faced front and one extended back acting like a heel. They were covered with a thick layer of soft brown hair like the hair on the rest of his body.
Every bit as flexible as a hand, Nine’s feet could do nearly everything his hands could do, with the exception of writing, since the claws made it nearly impossible to hold a pencil. The claws that tipped each of his toes were hooked under, two inches long and very sharp. They were useless on the hard floor, but promised a sure grip on any other surface and a secure grip on whatever he chose to carry.
Under his gown, Nine was covered with more soft brown hair, but none covered his belly or his genitals - hence the gown. His back, chest and shoulders were heavily insulated against the cold mountain winds. His tail brushed the ground, looking like a wayward piece of material at first glance. Obscured by his chest hair, was the fact that his chest was especially constructed to support the action of flight giving him the look of being barrel-chested - which, in fact, he was.
Over the first year, Nine learned to read, write and do math. He learned military history – intimate military history of each of the military branches. Very little that was outside of a military application, was ever mentioned. He was also strengthened and tested over and over again until his physical strengths and weaknesses were well known.
By the time he was learning about dogfights, he was permitted his first real attempts at flight. His first efforts were in a wind tunnel with cushions on the floor. It was a good thing too, because the gown he customarily wore confused his aerodynamics and caused him to tumble upon landing every time he tried. Doing without solved that problem, but with his belly and privates exposed to the air, flying outside would be very cold if not debilitating.
The first person to consistently call him Nueve was the woman who cleaned his room and took care of him in other personal ways such as seeing to it that he took a bath every day – she helped him with extremities that he couldn’t reach. She also helped him overcome his clothing problem. Out of llama skin that was as brown as his hair, she made him something like an apron. It covered his belly with a wide belt that tapered to a buckle at his back. It was padded with brushed cotton to protect against chafing and cushioned with a layer of down to add warmth. In front, the belt extended almost to his knees, the last three inches of that distance was the combed hair of the llama. She had done some creative decorating of the front by braiding designs into the brown hair, occasionally working in colorful beads. It was a fine piece of work and Nine took to wearing it all the time.
Once Nine had mastered take-off and landing, he got his first introduction to outside. He was given specific directions in which direction he could fly with the promise of punishment if he disobeyed. Though he was not a disobedient boy, he had been punished severely for any transgressions. Something as big as flying in the wrong airspace would be a very big transgression – all the films and histories that covered flying in enemy airspace had taught him that. Being just a fledgling, Nine couldn’t begin to defend his airspace, or protect himself from such an attack. He had no desire to test his luck just yet.
With the vastness of the open air he was given, he had no problem keeping within his boundaries. Each time he flew, he was told to rehearse the dogfights of specific filmstrips, learning the maneuvers though he couldn’t hope to match the speeds. He did so gleefully, pushing his limits every chance he got. He also took to watching the birds in his field of view, which was, happily, quite far. Nine was able to spot something as small as a falcon on the wing at upwards of a mile distant – something that pleased the scientists very much.
In an effort to imitate those larger birds, Nine tried to land in the top of a large tree. He had been unprepared for the movement of the tree in response to his weight and the branch he had chosen had not supported him. The tumble had been a hard lesson, but one he had fortunately been able to walk away from. With his wings torn and strained and two toes broken on one foot, Nine was unable to fly back home or walk very far.
Nine wasn’t missed until it was too late to look for him, but he was quickly found the next morning. When he was permitted out on the thermals again, he had no desire to land in the tops of trees – rock outcroppings were plentiful.
One thing learned from his fellow flyers, was hunting. Though he was unwilling to hunt his fellow hunters, Nine decided to take a basketball up and use that as a target instead. He quickly found out that a round ball was difficult to hang on to when caught at those kinds of speeds so he switched his toy to a stick - sometimes they broke, but they were easier to catch and hang on to, and there was no limit to sticks. He didn’t give up on the ball though - he could kick it, launching it far further than he could throw a stick and if he did it high enough, he had time to make several attempts at catching it. His sharp eyesight enabled him to spot any balls he missed entirely and most of the time he was able to retrieve them. All of these efforts sharpened his tactical flying skills and spotting small objects far better than anything the scientists could come up with, so they saw to it that he had a bottomless supply of balls.
By the time Nine was sixteen relative years old, he was consistently called Nueve. He considered himself highly skilled at aerial acrobatics, and he was beginning to test the authority of the scientists who controlled his life.
He was given fairly loose reign over his day as long as he came around every night and was there whenever the scientists wanted to test him in some manner. In return, they added a room to the top floor of the building especially designed for him. It was very spacious inside and all four walls were mostly windows made out of Plexiglas for strength. There were two large sliding doors on either side of the room that accessed a wide railless balcony. Normal people could also reach his room by way of a roomy stairwell in one corner. Nueve could use the stairs too – there was enough room to accommodate his wings as well as his feet, but he preferred to fly down to the ground from one of his balconies.
The room was also equipped with a roomy bathroom and any equipment he might need in order to work on his lessons.
Late one evening, after a cramped day of lessons and then frustrating exercises endured through the heat of the day, Nueve took flight from his room to cool off and enjoy the sunset. Just before the sun was completely hidden by the glittering horizon of the far away and forbidden ocean, Nueve heard a shrill call that didn’t sound like anything he had ever heard before.
Using his ears to their avian best, he circled closer. He had chosen to fly in one of the forbidden directions in order to have a better view of the coast and the sunset. He knew the restriction was because of the town still fifty some odd miles away, but he figured if he couldn’t see them, they certainly couldn’t see him.
The shrill noises continued, but they weren’t as desperate as the first sound he had heard, though there didn’t seem to be any less fear, and for the first time he thought he heard words. As he got closer, the light was fading, but he still had a couple hours of sight left before he would be forced to land. He spotted a person clinging to the face of a cliff dangling from two scarce finger holds and one toehold; the other foot scrabbled for some purchase, but found nothing.
As soon as he saw this person – the source of the shrill cries – Nueve spotted another standing looking over the face of the cliff.
“Help! Help me!” cried the person on the face of the cliff.
“Fall, why don’t you,” said the person at the top of the cliff. “You should have minded your own business. Mr. Luis doesn’t want his doings known by just anyone.”
“Help me! Oh god, please help me!” cried the girl on the cliff.
Nueve had never met a ‘girl’ before though he knew several women. Their words helped Nueve decide his next action. He had never killed before, but this man deserved it. Though he had never been taught this in so many terms, instinctively, Nueve knew that women and children needed to be protected. Someone who would kill a woman was too dangerous to be allowed to continue.
Nueve continued his circle, swooping as if to catch the man as he had learned to catch fish from a river. Instead of catching the weight of the man, he kicked him over the edge of the cliff and sent him plunging onto the rocks far below. He didn’t scream his death – the blow likely broke his neck; if not, he at least was not aware of his fall.
Then Nueve circled around tightly and came at the girl and the face of the cliff. He took the brunt of his weight on the cliff before grabbing the girl and falling away. She was stunned as she was buffeted into the rock face by the unorthodox landing that was not a landing, so she was unable to fight for her life as the claws of his feet and his hands gripped her legs and arms and pulled her tight to his body.
He tumbled away from the rock face then righted his trajectory. Flapping hard, Nueve clung to her extra weight tenaciously. He didn’t fear dropping her, but he was unwilling to dangle her upside-down from his feet; it would make landing highly dangerous for both of them.
Straining hard, he managed to attain the top of the cliff again. By then his passenger was beginning to stir. Moments before he landed, she let out a breathy “Oh my god!” and stiffened up.
Between the two of them, their landing was only slightly clumsy – no one was hurt and neither of them fell.
Released to her own balance, the girl took another couple steps before turning to see where the huge wings had come from. “Oh my god,” was all she could say as Nueve rubbed his screaming shoulders.
At his first clear view, Nueve could see that the ‘girl’ was smaller and younger than any other woman he knew.
“Who are you?” she asked in a shocked voice, then followed it with a rapid “What are you?”
“I am Nueve, and I am…what I am,” replied Nueve. “Are you safe here? I don’t think I can carry you any further, but I could go for help.”
“I’m fine,” she said as she looked closer, trying to get a better look at him in the waning light. “My pack is right over there. I can move about a mile from here and camp for the night. Then I think I’ll leave the area completely. Where’s Etienne? I’d rather not run into him in the dark.”
“If you mean the man who wanted you to die on that cliff, he took a dive, and I didn’t try to catch him.”
It took her a moment to understand what he had just said and rushed to the edge of the cliff to look down. It was too dark to see anything at the bottom of the cliff.
“I have to go,” said Nueve. “Will you be okay?”
“Yes, yes, I’ll be fine, I’ll be fine.”
She seemed preoccupied, but Nueve could see no alternative and it was rapidly becoming too dark to fly. He launched himself off the cliff only a few feet away from her and heard her gasp with surprise. As he circled around to head home, he could see her white face searching the sky for him. He knew he was invisible to her in this light.
The next day, he flew high over the cliff and watched as men with ropes repelled down to recover the body. The girl was nowhere to be seen. He wondered what her name was – he had forgotten to ask her name.