Ensign Katar Hol discovers the harsh realities of Thanagar: a world of racism, drugs, cold existence; a civilization that has enslaved other worlds and other races; a people who have forgotten and abandoned their legends.
In his banned book, Creation's Wing, Paran Katar writes on the commonality of alien ornithological species. Thanagarian Wingmen descend on Thanagar's "downside", an impoverished community, populated by thousands of conquered alien species. Ensign Katar Hol, a student of history, is astonished to see a giant statue of Kalmoran, an ancient hero of Thanagar. The Wingmen disembark from the drop ship, and begin a search and destroy operation, known as "Flashzone".
Despite the presence of children, Commander Byth does not hesitate to execute suspected dissidents. Nor does Captain Kragger, though he, at least, is willing to spare the children. Hol is clearly uncomfortable carrying out his Wingman duties, feeling that the conduct asked of him is less than heroic. Hol discovers a huge hidden cache of weapons. Byth points out that he is aware of Hol's noble lineage, and so are the other Wingmen. They believe that Hol has come down from his towers of aristocracy to 'slum" with a lower class.
Byth speaks to Hol with clear disdain. Byth levels his weapon on Hol, and pulls the trigger, but with the safety on. Byth orders Hol, and Kragger, to return topside. During the ascent, Kragger offers Hol narcotics to help with the job. Upon arriving home, Hol finds an invitation from his father, Katar, to attend a social function. Hol swallows the drug, to steel himself for the party. Hol is seated with his father, Katar, Commissioner Andar Pul, Administrator Thal Porvis, and his daughter, Shayera.
Hol shows great umbrage that the wine is not Thanagarian. Katar comments on his son's love of antiquities, and passion for Thanagarian culture. Porvis openly displays racism towards the alien waiter. Shayera invites Hol to dance. Hol expresses his sense of loss at the erosion of Thanagarian culture, usurped by the thousands of blending cultures from hundreds of conquered worlds. A waiter spills wine on Shayera, who flies into a blind rage at the transgression.
Shayera clearly shares her father's resentment of Thanagar's alien domestic class. Katar expresses dangerous notions of class inequalities among the conquered races, and their conquerors, the aristocracy of Thanagar. On his next Wingman patrol, Hol is offered more narcotics by Kragger. Hol, and Kragger, are tasked with garnering information regarding the weapons being moved into the "downside". Interrogating one of his informants, Kragger is murdered by a gang of militants. The murder, however, is not random. Byth has paid for Kragger's assassination.
Hol, at the behest of his father, joins Porvis, and Shayera, on a hunting expedition. Hol finds a slaughtered herd, with their tongues removed. Hol leads Shayera to another statue of Kalmoran, and discusses the hero's history. Shayera offers Hol narcotics. Hol is surprised to see a herd foraging for food. Shayera fires on them, killing all but one. Hol tracks the wounded creature to it's cave. Hol is stunned to see that the creatures live much like other sentient beings, and that they are not actually wild animals. Disgusted at the depths of decadency that his people have sunk to, Hol abandons his necklace, depicting Kalmoran, and leaves it dangling from the statue.
Note: Keith Wilson credited as Book Design.