“By Starlight” by Rebecca J Payne

IZ225 coverA cool drink of a story, measured and soothing; a story about freedom that itself feels free. Our protagonists are two sky sailors in a world divided into Flyers and Grounders. We learn how they met, and how they ended up where they are now. We see them trade with a merchant, and get out of a sticky situation. Their world, with its living, healing sky-ships, and “Amerika” and “Aysa” and “Europa”, could be a future and, under the skin, sf, or it could be alternate and fantastical. Payne’s story is detailed, and nicely specific, but the nature of her world doesn’t matter, not to her characters (one of whom, the narrator, is I think also casually unspecified; I didn’t notice any specific cues, and they have been read as both male and female) or to us. What matters is flying free.

One night, as we skimmed low over a wide lake, hauling up fresh water, we caught a silvery bird in our bucket. It had slippery skin instead of feathers and small wings that flapped in water as if in the air.

We threw it back over the side and watched it fly away, into the deep.