From Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
(excerpt from pages 503-506)
Zo was supposed to check in with Jackie and the Free Mars apparatchiks working for her, but before getting embroiled in all that she wanted to fly. So she checked out her old Santorini hawksuit out of storage at the gliderport, and went to the changing room and slipped into it, feeling the smooth muscly texture of the suit's flexible exoskeleton. Then it was out the smooth path, trailing her tail feathers, and onto the Diving Board,a natural overhang that had been artificially extended with a concrete slab. She walked to the edge of the slab and looked down, down, down, three thousand meters down, to the umber floor of Echus Chasma. With the usual burst of adrenaline she tipped forward and fell off the cliff. Headfirst down, down, down, the wind picking up in a swift whoosh over her helmet as she reached terminal velocity, which she recognized by the pitch of the whooshing; and then she spread her arms, and felt the suit stiffen and help her muscles to hold the beautiful wings wide, and with a loud crumping smoosh of wind she curved up into the sun, turned her head, arched her back, pointed her toes and set the tail feathers, left right left; and the wind was pulling her up, up, up. Shift her feet and arms together, turn then in a tight gyre, see the cliff then the chasm floor, around and round: flying. Zo the hawk, wild and free. She was laughing happily, and tears streamed this way and that in her goggles, dashed away by the force of the g.
The air above Echus was nearly empty this morning. After riding the updraft most fliers were peeling off to the north, soaring, or shooting down one of the clefts in the cliff wall, where the updraft was diminished and it was possible to tip and dive in stoops of great velocity. Zo too, when she had gotten about five thousand meters above Overlook, and was breathing the pure oxygen of her helmet's enclosed air system, turned her head right and dipped her right wing, and curved through the exhilaration of a run across the wind, feeling it keen over her body in a rapid continuous fingering. No sound but the hard whoosh of wind in her wings. The somatic pressure of the wind all over her body was a subtly sensuous massage, and she felt it through the tightened suit as if the suit were not there, as if she were naked and feeling the wind directly on her skin, as she wished she could be. A good suit reinforced this impression, of course, and she had used this one for three m-years before leaving for Mercury; it fit like a glove, it was great to be back in it.
She pulled up into a kite, then stunted forward in the maneuver called Jesus Falling. A thousand meters down and she pulled her wings in and began to dolphin-kick to speed her stoop, until the wind was keening loudly over her, and she passed the edge of the great wall going well over terminal velocity. Passing the rim was the sign to start pulling out, because as tall as the cliff was, at full stoop the chasm floor came rushing up like a final slap in the face, and it took a while to pull out of it, even given her strength and skill and nerve, and the reinforcement of the suit. So she arched her back and popped her wings, and felt the strain in her pecs and biceps, a tremendous pressure even though the suit aided her with a logarithmically increasing percentage of the load. Tail feathers down; pike; four hard flaps; and she was jinking across the chasm's sandy floor, she could have picked a mouse off of it.
She turned and got back in the updraft, gyred back up into developing high clouds. The wind was erratic today, and it was an all-absorbing pleasure to tumble and play in it. This was the meaning of life, the purpose of the universe: pure joy, the sense of self gone, the mind become no more than a mirror of the wind. Exuberance; she flew like an angel, as they said. Sometimes one flew like a drone, sometimes one flew like a bird; and then on rare occasions one flew like an angel. It had been a long time.
She came to herself, and lofted back down the wall toward Overlook, feeling tired in her arms. Then she spotted a hawk. Like a lot of fliers, if there was a bird in sight she tracked it, watching it more closely than birders had ever before watched a bird, imitating its every twitch and flutter to try to learn the genius of its flight. Sometimes hawks over this cliff would be innocently wheeling in a search for food and a whole squadron of fliers would be above it following its moves, or trying to. It was fun.
Now she shadowed the hawk, turning when it did, imitating the placement of the wings and tail. Its mastery of the air was like a talent that she craved but could never have. But she could try: bright sun in the racing clouds, indigo sky, the wind against her body, the little weightless gut orgasms when she peeled over into a stoop . . .eternal moments of no-mind. The best, cleanest use of human time.
But the sun fell westward and she got thirsty, and so she left the hawk to its day and turned and coursed down in giant lazy S's to Overlook, to nail her landing with a flap and a step, right on the green Kokopelli, just as if she had never left.
This is such an outstanding excerpt from an outstanding series that I was inspired to type it in with my clumsy little fingers. Now that you're inspired, you have to start with Red Mars, then Green Mars before you can read Blue Mars. I have a list of writers whose books will automatically go on my reading list, no matter what the subject. Mr. Robinson is on that list. May he also be added to yours.
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last updated 8/28/2001