Daikan hadnâ€™t told anyone about the birds. They were his secret, but each day, he had to prove to himself that his secret was still there.
The fields stretched out wide and sun-kissed, rows of wheat and corn and the colonial crop of beravados swaying gently in the wind. Daikan breathed the air as he walked, but he paid no attention to the beauty of the countryside. He had grown up on colony worlds, after all, and had never seen a true city. The contrast was lost on him. He was close to the valley now, the hollow where heâ€™d first discovered his secret. The fields held no interest for him.
Daikan paused to catch his breath at the base of the last hill, his heart leaping in his chest. Every day that he made this pilgrimage, he asked himself the same questions. Would they be there today? Would it all still be true? Or had his secret vanished overnight, disappeared into the ether of impossibility? Daikan didnâ€™t want to believe it was all a dream, so he hadnâ€™t told anyone. Not yet. He took a deep breath and bent down to his hands and knees, crawling up the hill to peer over the top.
The birds were there. Stretching out in all directions, they covered the grassy plain, so close together that Daikan couldnâ€™t see the ground. The valley was filled with birds of every shape and color, feathers rustling, all packed together more closely than Daikan had ever seen. He held his breath, eyes wide, terrified of disturbing them. Each day the birds seemed to multiply, with more kinds and colors filling the small hollow until Daikan couldnâ€™t believe it would hold anymore, but this was far beyond the number from the day before. The valley full of feathers and beaks was a living thing, but the only sound that issued from it was a low, pervasive rustle. The birdlike chatter that had drawn him there for the first time a week ago was gone, and Daikan swallowed. He would keep still forever if it meant never breaking the wonder of the scene before him.
All at once, the rustle stopped. Daikanâ€™s eyes were wide as saucers, fearful that the birds had discovered him, that he would be covered by angry wings and claws and pecked apart by sharp beaks, but the birds didnâ€™t move. For a long moment, there was utter silence in the valley, an unnerving stillness that a similar crowd of human beings could never produce. Then the birds turned as one and launched themselves into flight.
It was stunning. Every bird in the valley, every member of every species that had been painstakingly transported from the homeworld, took wing at once. They flew over Daikanâ€™s head with no regard whatsoever for the human boy, and without thinking he was on his feet, mouth open as he stared at the cloud of departing creatures. Feathers fell around him like rain, the combined effect of thousands of birds taking off at once, nearly blotting out the sky with their bodies.
â€œNo!â€ Daikan cried out in dismay, stretching a futile hand out after them. â€œNo, please! Come back!â€ His hand caught only a single black feather.
The birds didnâ€™t listen. In a cacophony of flapping wings, they were gone.
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