Warmth radiated across my back, feeling amazing against each feather the sun beats down against. I sigh softly, extending the limbs a little further to catch more of the rays beaming down through the forest canopy. The soft, springy moss coating the tree limb works as a nice buffer between my skin and the coarse bark as I sprawl out on it. I let my arms drape out over the limb, fingers brushing against the broad green maple leaves of the branches below me. The air is filled with the soft sounds of bird song, wind rustling through leaves, and the scuffling of a badger digging up mushrooms and roots below me. It’s black and white snout half buried in the dirt.
I roll over onto my back, spreading my wings even wider to allow the warmth to seep into the undersides. I’ve never felt this relaxed before, and don’t want the feeling to ever end.
“The recovery process has been astounding.”
“It’s only been two weeks and it looks good as new.”
I groan softly and crack my eyes open. With my vision still blurry with sleep, I can only make out watery colors and shapes. A few rapid blinks reveal, first the solid bars of my cage, and then the two scientists beyond. The one I recognize immediately; Julianna. I don’t like her much at all. The other, a spider limbed man with an absurdly long neck and shaggy dirty blonde hair, peers in at me with intrigue alight in his dark brown gaze.
I shift uncomfortably under the scrutinizing gaze, shuffling my wings tighter to my body. The feathers have grown back, and they don’t hurt anymore. The soft downy feathers of the underside of each wing brush warmly against the bare skin of my arms. The same loose hospital gown is tied around my body, but it still leaves most of my arms and legs bare, and it gets cold at night.
“So, testing begins today, then?” the man asks, just a little too eagerly for my liking.
Julianna shakes her head. “No. This one’s not ours to keep. Once she’s cleared, she’s going on the market.”
“Perhaps, but that’s what’s been decided. We’ll take her now, work with her so she’s at least walking and standing on her own, clean her up a bit, and then let the auction begin, more or less.”
Water is still dripping from my sodden wings as I’m herded through a set of double doors leading to a new long corridor. Being cleaned up was not pleasant, with an icy spray of water hosing me down and chilling my skin and feathers, a coarse brush scrubbing away the grime of basically what’s been my life thus far. My hair was combed out and I spent the next several hours learning to walk and stand upright without too much difficulty. I still find myself stumbling, especially if I catch a claw in the cracks between the floor tiles, but at least I don’t need anyone holding me up or carrying me.
At the end of the corridor, I find myself standing in front of a tall metal door. The male scientist accompanying us jabs his thumb against a button on the wall and moments later, the metal door slides sideways with a chime, revealing a small metallic box. I pause to think of the device’s name. Elevator, comes to mind, holding similar purpose to stairs, for moving between floors. Julianna prods me between the wings, urging me inside the box. I shuffle my wings nervously as they pile on as well and the doors slide closed. The small, restrictive space, is almost worse than my cage, and claustrophobia swells in my throat, leaving a vile taste in my mouth. When the doors finally open again on a second chime, revealing a new hallway, I surge forward, eager to be out of the confined space. The collar of the new, gray gown that replaced the hospital gown is grabbed from behind and pulls taunt, jarring me to a halt and causing me to nearly slip on the slick tiles of the floor.
“Don’t be running off now,” Julianna’s condescending tone rings with disapproval. “It’s a maze down here if you don’t know where you’re going, so it will do you no good and I would make you regret it if I have to track you down.”
I sigh and shuffle my wings. This new gown is immensely uncomfortable, and I honestly preferred the one that tied up at the back instead of having to be pulled over my head. Slashes were cut in the fabric to allow my wings through, but apparently they cannot just snap out with ease as the scientists seemed too stupidly be hoping. That attempt had caused feathers to snag and the appendages to get hopelessly tangled and trapped. It took a lot of maneuvering in order to get them to pull through properly so I could fold them overtop the fabric. It’s not an experience I have a desire to repeat.
Julianna bustles me into a new room and I freeze up. The massive auditorium is filled with rows and rows of chairs, nearly every single seat occupied by men and women dressed in pressed suits or lab coats. I gulp, taking a step back, my folded wings pressing against Julianna’s torso. I’ve never been around so many people before, and now every pair of eyes is fixated on me with varying emotions ranging from curiosity, desire, disinterest, and cruel eagerness. I shudder, wanting nothing more than to bolt as Julianna ushers me up onto a small wooden platform that really only has room enough for me to stand there. A little to my left, a man stands and clears his throat. Everyone turns to focus their attention on him, and I can’t help but do the same, my curiosity overpowering my fear. I don’t recognize him, not that I’ve met many here. Beneath the lab coat that labels him a scientist, he’s dressed rather smartly in a dress shirt and tie. Repositioning his glasses on his nose, he nods to a screen behind him that flashes on at the same moment. It flashes a picture of a man I easily recognize. My eyes narrow even as my heart sinks as my creator’s face is displayed on the large screen.
“We’ve all dealt with this old coot in the past,” the man begins, earning several chuckles and a few audible groans from the audience. “Yes, Dr. Nortap was a fool, and a failure on nearly every account, a hindrance to most projects he was assigned. He met his match two months ago, as you may have heard, but he left behind one final…creation, for us to deal with.”
More images; documents, statistics, and a slew of formulas I don’t recognize flash across the screen.
“Three years ago, Dr. Nortap set out on his own and began building the genetic code to create a hybridized creature. A new species if you will. Of course, his methods were crude at best, and he had no support from this facility. Yet, despite the odds, he succeeded.” The next image to pull up on the screen is one of me. Curled in on myself, wings half extended, face concealed by my hair, as I float in the large tube of viscous liquid that housed me for the first several memories of my life. The place of my birth, and almost death.
Julianna steps forward then, prodding me in the back and forcing my attention forward once more. Suddenly the crowd’s attention is once more fixated on me, and I feel my stomach lurch as it twists itself into a rock hard knot within me.
“Subject seventeen is the first ever tube grown genetic experiment to survive outside its capsule for any extended period of time. There are little to no flaws found in her biology, or fusing.”
Julianna’s hands are on me again, grasping one wing tightly, her long nails pinching at the skin beneath my feathers. I wince, try to pull away, but she simply grips harder, pulling until my wing is fully extended and on display for everyone in the room. The murmurs of the audience grow louder. A few point or whisper something to their neighbor, some jot down notes on notepads, while others flip through small pamphlets that seem to have been provided to them.
My tail lashes, curling around my leg, the feathered tip twitching back and forth. My taloned feet curl, grating against the wood of the platform, and I chew the inside of my cheek until I taste the coppery tang of blood. I tug my wing from Julianna’s grasp, folding them around my torso in an attempt to hide, shying away from all the people. Suddenly my cage, while uncomfortable and depressing, is a much more desirable place to be. Despite my efforts, however, my actions only seem to draw further attention as hungry eyes wander over the feathered appendages. I swallow back a whimper.
“Yes, she’s very impressive. There are several things unknown about her. In Dr. Nortap’s final moments, he attempted to terminate his project. By some miracle, and the medical aid of this facility, she survived both the poison pumped into her system, and the fire that ravaged her externally. As you can see, her wings have made a full recovery, though whether or not they are able to perform their intended purpose, or are simply pretty decorations is unknown. Though the subject retains impressive voluntary control over them. She is intelligent. Her speech needs work, of course, but she can easily follow a conversation, and orders, once trained to submit. The mystery before you has yet to be fully unraveled, but we’ve asked you here today to make a decision. Because Subject Seventeen is officially on the market. We will open a bid in a few minutes, if there are no questions first.”
“How long has the creature been off tubes and life support?” a female voice inquires, but I can’t point out the owner in the crowd.
“Two months and seven day to date,” replies the man giving the presentation, though it feels more like an advertisement.
“And what would be the living necessities and accommodations of a creature like this?” another voice calls out.
“She is small, and flexible. Not a grand amount of space would be required to house her. Subject Seventeen has a lesser caloric intake requirement than the average human. A fact we found surprising given her nature. It may change, and obviously she’ll require more if active, and flying if such a thing is possible for her, but it should be no more straining than feeding the average teen. Her water intake is higher, however. Her body seems to burn through liquid and she’s a harder time staying hydrated.”
“Can she swim? What’s her agility and strength factors?”
“Subject seventeen would not do well in water,” this time it’s Julianna that speaks. “Her feathers would soak through and weigh her down, and her body is built for flight. On land she’s awkward, but not entirely helpless. We haven’t logged any true data as of now as to her full capabilities.”
“What’s its life expectancy?” a man in the front row demands. His cold gray eyes seem to stare into my soul, and I shrink away.
“That is a factor nearly impossible to be determined at this time,” the scientist replies. “The DNA of multiple birds was woven into the code of a human embryo. She could live the lifespan of the shortest lived bird, a full human life cycle, or anything in between. It’s anyone’s guess as there’s never been another like her.”
There’s more murmuring and plenty of staring at me, but no further questions arise from the crowd. After another minute or two of discussion, the man up front finally calls for a bid. The number opens high, and continues to climb, people calling out offers at random and rapidly leaving how high I can count.
Feeling dizzy and nauseous, I begin to tune out the world around me. A single word is enough to rip me from my dazed state and bring me crashing back into the wretched reality I’m living in. “Sold.”
My eyes search the crowd desperately. None of the people sitting in the seats appear overly friendly or desirable, but one of them now holds my fate, and I’ve no idea which.