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Birds of Paradise

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"Parrots," Mack repeated, not bothering to keep the incredulity out of his tone. Or off his face, for that matter. He'd been expecting (fearing, even) a number of things when Adler had requested his presence to discuss 'a matter of some urgency', but parrots had not been among them.

Tobias looked serious. "Yes, sir." Of course, simply because Tobias generally hadn't displayed a taste for pranks, that didn't mean he might not have been roped into cooperating with this one.

It might simply mean that while the man had a keen sense of humor, he also knew when was not the appropriate time to put it to use. Mack could respect that.

Mack could even, he supposed, play along for a while, just to see where they were going with this. Things had been fairly quiet recently - the paperwork kept coming, of course, only thus far, it had not included his reassignment to another location. He'd been expecting that, especially after the wedding. A new place for Admiral 'Make it Right' Makarian to work his magic.

Of course, Fleet didn't know that Mack's 'magic' had become slightly less figurative as of two months ago. Not that anything he'd learned so far would help him fix up a space station.

 

Two hours later, Mack was forced to conclude that the matter was, in fact, serious, if only because he couldn't picture Hebbs going along with anything like this.

"So far, people seem content to just collect the feathers that have fallen off naturally, but it's only a matter of time before things get ugly," Hebbs said. She shot an accusing look in Mack's direction.

Mack was tempted to ask if she'd have prefered to have seen Cirrus One be taken over by the Fav'lhir.

"They did help to save the station." With a little bit of help from Izaak and his flute and a not so little amount of help from Gillie's Raheiran magic, admittedly. Still, Mack supposed he owed the birds something, if only to protect them from - well. Given that the good Magefather Rigo had turned out to not only be a fake but even a traitor who'd been working with the enemy, Mack supposed it made sense enough for people to be looking for someone (or something) else to put their faith in.

Hebbs nodded briskly. "Which makes them Fleet's responsibility."

Funny how much 'responsibility' sounded like 'problem' all of a sudden. And funny how Mack and Fleet only ever seemed responsible for things the Stationmaster didn't like dealing with herself.

"I'm sure we can think of a solution to the problem," Mack said, putting a slight emphasis on that 'we'.

Still, they'd stopped a hostile invasion force by working together. How hard could it be to protect a handful of birds from their would-be worshipers?

 

To Gillie's credit, she didn't laugh when he told her about the latest 'crisis' that had been dumped on his plate. Possibly because she knew what it was like to be declared a deity.

"We could just close off the atrium, but that would only work for so long."

"Plus, it might only make things worse," Gillie finished.

"Exactly." The only good thing about this whole mess as far as Mack was concerned was that the parrots, like Gillie (but unlike Rigo) hadn't been looking for their new status. As long as they were fed and watered and got Izaak to play the flute for them every once in a while, they'd be happy.

If only the other people involved in this could have been so easy to deal with.

"Sounds like you got a tough day. You must be tired."

"Well." He did have more meetings to look forwards to tomorrow. A lot of meetings, some of them quite early. Best thing to get a good night's sleep. There would be other nights - a lifetime's worth of them. Gillie wasn't going anywhere, not without him. "Not that tired."

 

Where once there had been life crystal sellers, now there were sellers of feathers, bird charms and even one or two actual 'real divine parrots'. Mack wished their sellers much joy - the birds were clearly not pleased to be offered in such crowded and noisy surroundings, for all that they were plenty of noisy themselves.

He surprised himself by briefly considering buying them - not because of their 'divinity', but because they looked rather miserable, stuck in a small cage, waiting for someone foolish enough to buy the merchant's sales pitch and rich enough to be able to afford them.

The birds in the atrium might be a nuisance, only they seemed perfectly pleased with where they were. Which was the whole problem, of course, or had been the whole problem, before Gillie went and made them help her save the station.

 

"You get those birds out of there and you'll be turning the whole station into a hunting ground," Hebbs said. She didn't actually add 'you idiot'. Her tone did it for her, loud and clear.

"I'm not proposing to get them out of the atrium," Mack said. "In fact, I'm proposing the exact opposite."

Adler frowned. Tobias looked thoughtful.

Say what you want about Hebbs, but she wasn't slow on the uptake. "You want to turn the atrium into a shrine?" No accusations of idiocy now, implied or otherwise.

"Not a shrine. More of a place where people can come look at birds." A zoo, by any other name, but solely for birds. A tourist attraction. Not the most usual of ones for a space station, but then, Cirrus One had a bit of a history in that regard.

Compared to a casino, a zoo would seem positively harmless. Or so Mack hoped Fleet would feel.

The point was: Cirrus One needed jobs and it needed money, and if Mack could get both by going along for a little bit with people who wanted to worship a group of birds, then fine, going along with them he would. Whatever got the job done with the least amount of fuss and trouble without breaking any rules or regulations.

"It would require a considerable investment," Hebbs said, but not like she had rejected Mack's idea out of hand already. "Another one. And you'll be wanting your new offices built with priority, too, I assume."

She did have a point there, of course. If Mack turned the atrium into a zoo, it would be hard to get much work done next door, to say nothing of the security issues. "Yes." The current offices had only ever been intended to be temporal anyway. Mack couldn't say he'd be particularly sorry to leave them behind for something a bit more spacious.

Hebbs gave him a long, hard look. Mack looked back, waiting for it. She'd say he owed her, no doubt, which would be true, up to a point, in the same way it would be true to say she owed him for saving her station. They were in this together. "Fine."

 

epilogue

Mack barely recognized the atrium. Parrots were everywhere, flying around in a mad whirl of colors. No patterns to be discerned here.

So much for his theories on parrot behavior.

Gillie looked delighted. Mack wondered, suddenly, how long it had been since she'd been planetside. There hadn't been time after the wedding for a honeymoon (not according to Fleet, at least, and Mack had decided to count his blessings and not make an issue out of it; anywhere he could be together with Gillie suited him just perfectly) but he still planned on giving her one, some day.

Perhaps he should find out where those parrots had come from in the first place and take her there.

The Lady knew he'd be perfectly happy to go to a whole lot more trouble to be able to put that smile on her face.