Deb arrived at 9:00 exactly, room 1278. A strange woman answered the door, tall and willowy, with a glimmering black dress. She wore spiked heels that made her long legs even longer and Deb felt instantly self-conscious, aware of her own ill-fitting dress and her orthopedic shoes. Since the surgery and the added strain on her feet, knees, and back, she’d abandoned heels for more practical footwear, the kind of sneakers that nurses wore. At that moment though, she would have cut off her own pinkie toes for a pair of slingback pumps.
Deb wished she had made Carl pick her up at her room so they could have arrived together. She was about to say he’d invited her but the woman didn’t question, only turned, leaving the door open as she walked off. Her wings were a model Deb hadn’t seen yet – angled sharply at the point where humerus met ulna and feathered in a deep ruby hue. Luminous. The word jumped to her mind unbidden.
Three men sat in a corner, crowding around a computer screen. None of them were Carl.
“I’m telling you,” one said, “the Chinese have it on lock.” The tall woman joined them, leaning a hand on the back of his chair.
“They’re built for it,” said the man. “You just can’t mod to that degree. No amount of bone shaving or rib removal will get you down to size like that.” On the screen ran a rough piece of video taped with a handheld camera. It was a thirty-second clip of a man flying, and every time it ended, the guy at the keyboard started it again.
He was not gliding, the man, but actually flapping, launching into the air and taking off. His wings reached out and thrust with unexpected force. Just as he was about to drop back down, he beat those wings again, shooting forward. The camera followed him, panning across an open landscape to show him landing, thirty feet away, crumpled in a heap, before the footage ended abruptly. Then, from the beginning, it started again.