Resisting Maxu: Chapter 3

“First stop. Are you ready?” Daunet, Meg’s personal guard, peered at her from across the cruiser, leaning close, elbows on knees.

Meg rubbed her palms on her thighs and tried to shift her focus away from the somersaults in her stomach. “Are you sure you’re okay?” she countered when she took in Daunet’s pallid complexion. Most of the cruisers back in Tremanta didn’t have windows, but the long specialty cruisers they’d been given had optional windows, allowing occupants to choose whether or not to look outside.

It wasn’t until halfway into their ride that Meg and the other human in the cruiser, Sophia, had noticed their Clecanian guards growing a little green around the gills. Apparently, watching the scenery zoom by at a hundred miles an hour made most Clecanians sick. After learning this, Meg and Sophia had had no choice but to close the windows for fear of wearing their guard’s lunches on their chests before they’d reached their first stop.

Cribus. The city in the sky.

She’d spent a good portion of the ride rereading everything she could about the city. It wasn’t really in the sky. Rather, it rested at the edge of the sea atop enormous cliffs. The city had earned its nickname because of the fog and mist that often rolled in off the water and covered the ground. The entry she’d read had described the fog as so dense the grass and water were completely blocked from view, giving the illusion one was walking through clouds.

She’d also read how incredibly dangerous the fog was. Many had been so entranced while strolling through the sky that they’d stepped right off the treacherous cliffs. It hadn’t happened for a long time, of course. Barriers had been placed so even if you made it to the cliffs an invisible wall would stop you from tumbling over, but the odd phenomenon had shaped the culture of Cribus nonetheless. The people of the city were notorious for what Meg called their “feet first” approach.

Once the windows in the cruiser had been closed and she could no longer gaze in wonder at the pastel fields and sparkling turquoise rivers, she and Sophia busied themselves with extending their feet and pointing their toes in what was the traditional Cribusian greeting. Meg felt like some kind of shoe model every time she attempted to stretch out her leg and rest her pointed foot in front of her. Sophia said it made her feel like a ballet dancer. After an hour of practicing, though, both had had to stop due to cramping in their arches.

Meg had been confident in her knowledge of the city on the four-hour ride. Confident that she’d learned about all the faux pas. What was polite to say and do, and what wasn’t. But now, as she opened the window and stared at a small crowd, growing larger by the minute, she second-guessed everything she’d learned.

They’d arrived at what looked to be a large amphitheater built right on the edge of the cliffs. There was no fog today, and the wild blue-green ocean was visible past the steep drop-off of the theater.

She’d seen some pictures of Cribus, but it had never looked quite like this. The rolling hills were greener than she’d thought they’d be. The round topped houses in a rainbow of colors were different too. Taller. More real than when she’d “awed” at the quaint, brightly colored buildings on her trusty reading screen back in Tremanta.

And the amphitheater? The picture she’d seen had been an empty, beautifully carved outdoor seating area with intricate mosaicked flooring. But now? So many people crowded inside that she couldn’t even see the floor.

Daunet had tried to prepare her for this. She’d warned Meg and Sophia that though no one knew which cities the humans would arrive in during their tour, as soon as the specialty cruisers showed up, the citizens would flock to them.

Meg’s heart crawled into her throat, and a hollow dread settled in her stomach as the Cribusian people filed into the theater. Most were varying shades of pale blue with long, graceful legs. All were stunning.

Was she really qualified for this? The people, the buildings, the orange sun hanging above the white-capped sea. It was all so lovely. It was what she’d been looking forward to for months. But in this moment, it was terrifying.

“Wow. It’s true,” Sophia said, gazing past Meg through her window. “They really don’t wear shoes.”

Meg squinted at the feet of the nearest Cribusians, and a small glimmer of excitement cut through her nerves. The two women, who kept shooting curious glances toward their cruiser as they shuffled into the theater, wore no shoes. Meg hadn’t noticed at first because there was something covering the tops of their feet. She all but pressed her face against the window to make out what it was and grinned. “I think they’re feathers.”

“Really?” Sophia scooted as close to Meg as she could to get a clear view. Her long black hair brushed over Megs’ arm, and when Meg tipped back in her seat and lifted her hands, Sophia leaned over Meg’s body to squint through the window. “Oh, wow, they are! Do you think they glued them on there, or do they have feathers on their feet?”

“The people of Cribus decorate their feet to be fashionable.”

Meg and Sophia both turned to see Heleax, Sophia’s guard, had spoken. Daunet agreed absently with a nod, while patting down her uniform and adjusting the weapons strapped to her shoulder and chest.

Meg had read about that. All kinds of things could be used to dress up their feet. Jewels, feathers, plants, paint. Meg now realized reading and experiencing were very different. That was the beauty of this gift she’d been given. To experience a place and its people, not just read about it. This was what she’d wished for. Meg continued watching as more and more Cribusians filled the stadium, and incrementally, she let her awe and gratefulness wash away the worst of her anxiety.

She didn’t need to be a scientist or well traveled. The people coming to see them just wanted to know about humans. Meg was qualified enough for that at least. She could answer whatever they threw at her. She turned to Daunet with a grin. “I’m ready.”


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