“We belong in the sky,” Dad explained, gesturing broadly to include the night sky above them. “The only reason you’re feeling even a little scared is because you grew up among these humans.” He waved his arm again, this time indicating the streets below.
Matt looked up at the clouds, spotting a faint star or maybe a plane through the interfering light pollution. He wasn’t sure the humans were entirely crazy, being afraid of heights. It seemed like a safe fear, as plummeting from heights would result in broken bones, even for their people. He knew better than to voice this skepticism in the presence of his father, though.
His mother was more sympathetic to the plight of humans, maybe because she didn’t spend her days working in an office like his dad did. She put a hand on her husband’s arm, a silent signal that maybe he ought to tone down the rhetoric. “Everyone’s first time alone is a little scary,” she said diplomatically. “I’m sure you’ll be fine. You’ve been doing fine in practice.”
Matt nodded his agreement, feeling a little more confident. “Right,” he said bravely. “I’m ready.”
“We’ll head out first,” Mom went on, restating the plan they’d already stated a thousand times before. “If you need us, we won’t be far away.”
Matt nodded again. “I’ll be fine.”
Mom looked like she was going to say more, like maybe a speech about how her baby was all grown up and how proud she was, but Dad interrupted. “All right, let’s go,” he said impatiently.
It seemed to Matt that despite what his books on the topic said, there was no set way to fly. Some people gathered power in a manner that seemed to be effortless, and became airborne without any obvious exertion. Others made a big show of it, bending their knees and leaping into the air, a physical movement that one of his texts insisted was completely unnecessary and wrong.
His parents were somewhere in the middle of the two extremes. Dad seemed to mentally concentrate before takeoff, so that although he didn’t bother with obvious physical movements, the process also did not appear effortless. His mother took a deep breath that she described as “cleansing” and moved her arms from a prayer position to slightly away from her sides. Somehow, this seemed to take less energy than Dad’s technique.
They were gone in an instant, vanishing into the night sky despite the egregious amount of light pollution in the city. Matt was alone. He took a few moments to think about the milestone he was about to achieve.
At school, he tried not to think about how different he was from his classmates, although none of them were aware. He knew of People who’d grown up among humans and chosen to adopt that lifestyle. Some of them got married and raised hybrid children who didn’t know quite how weird they were. They wanted to belong, and not to the People they were born to. It was appealing in a certain sense.
The problem, the one big problem with being human, or pretending to be human, was that you couldn’t fly. At least, not on your own, without enlisting the aid of some technological machine. It wasn’t nearly as fun.
Matt let out a breath, and then turned his gaze from the sky to his feet. He focused, sensing the wind currents and the power within them that only his People could feel, a power that humans couldn’t even detect. He made his body into a magnet for this power, drawing it in to himself. The wind ruffled his hair, blowing his bangs into his eyes. He took the same deep breath his mother did, mentally preparing himself for flight.
And then, he was in the air.
The wind gusted past him quickly as he accelerated higher. He hadn’t bothered with a jacket, just a long-sleeved, button-down shirt over his t-shirt, and this flapped wildly. His bangs were no longer in his eyes; his hair was pushed back, flat against his skull. If he’d been a human, his eyes would have been watering, but his People had better eyes than that. They were built for the sky, like Dad said.
When he’d reached sufficient enough height that it was unlikely anyone could see him from the ground, Matt slowed his acceleration and studied the city below him. Tiny pinpricks of light twinkled. He could make out a landmark here and there – a vast emptiness that was the parking lot of the local grocery store, closed for the night, another that was the school parking lot. Not much in the dark, but it didn’t matter.
He flew across the city, and then back again, and then crisscrossed it once more, before he started to feel both tired and hungry. Adrenaline was no longer sustaining him, and it was past midnight. Flying took up energy, and he was burning his reserves quickly. The key to a successful solo flight was not just taking off, but knowing when to land.
The top of the building where Matt and his parents lived was indistinguishable from the other identical buildings nearby, and apartment building in a sea of apartment buildings. To make it easier for People, his parents had long ago tied a red cloth onto one of the many antennas. Spotting this cloth from high above, Matt began a slow descent. Landing was as hard, if not harder, than taking off.
As he drew closer, though, he saw a pattern of flashing lights on the ground beside his building. Two police cruisers were parked in front, on the street. Matt shifted course to land on the building beside his own.
The hardest part about landing was releasing the power at the right time. Too soon, and you’d fall to the earth from several stories up. Too late, and you’d miss the target and possibly meet the same fate. Obviously, the best option was to land on the ground, but even if that had been possible to do without being seen, the many buildings lining the narrow streets of the city made even that less than simple.
Matt stuck the landing, though he took an extra dozen or so steps, and ended up walking into the door leading to the lower levels. He checked to make sure he hadn’t hit his nose hard enough to give himself a nosebleed, and then surveyed the situation at his own building.