Life Anew

Michael `Stalbon' Peleh

22:35, November 11, 2012

“And how is everything going, Thompson?”

“Vital signs are nominal, sir.” The blonde man in the white lab coat leaned over a flashing panel, fingering through layers of readouts. “The amnion is holding and while her weight is slightly less than we had anticipated, it is still well within standard range.”

Thompson's elder nodded briskly, adjusting his glasses as he leaned his pocked and wrinkled face closer to the thick glass separating him from the incubation chamber inside. He laid a broad palm on the circular encasement, staring at the form inside. “Excellent. All is going according to schedule.”
The blonde assistant turned to stare at the middle-aged man, a smile forming on his lips. “It would seem that the procedure could not have gone more perfectly, Professor.”

The man hardly seemed to hear his words, so captivated was he by what the capsule held. He leaned his face closer to the glass, the graying hairs of his thick mustache fluttering under his whistling breath. He gazed intently into the liquid inside, bursts of bubbles from within hiding all but a few features of the delicate being inside.

There was already the beginning of a beak protruding from her lower face, and her legs, so tightly curled against her body, had taken on a scaly appearance. He watched as the nubs protruding from her back moved ever so gently in the stream of oxygen filling the cylinder.

“My dear,” the man said, his eyes crinkling at their edges, “you have no idea how momentous an occasion this is.”

19:00, December 3, 2012

Over the myriad voices calling his name and the flash and pop of numerous cameras, the man reached out and pointed at one of the male figures in the front, calling out for him to speak, silence falling as the reporter cleared his throat.

“Professor Jackson, I'm Peter Vissey from Nation. To start things off, rumors have been flying for weeks about this project. Are we to truly believe the claims that you've created a new form of life after so many years of other failed attempts and veiled secrecy?”

The man seated at the table laughed loud and hard, reaching up to brush some hair from his wide forehead. When he had calmed himself enough to speak, he leaned down toward the multiple microphones placed before him. “Hehe…Mr. Vissey, let me remind you that, as head of research at Sydesico and top scientist on this project, I am all the assurance you need as to the validity of our claim. We have indeed created an entirely new form of life, the likes of which has never been seen before!”

Many gasps and murmurs arose from the audience, more flashbulbs popping off. Mr. Vissey seemed somewhat startled, but quickly regained his composure. “Well then…are we going to see this….being…tonight?”

Professor Jackson chuckled again. “I had thought that the purpose of this called conference. And I see no further need to keep you all in suspense.” He held his left hand out to the darkness offstage. “Let me introduce you to our specimen!”

A dark-haired woman came out from the curtains, carrying a bundle in her arms as if it were a baby. A great roar of applause sounded and the flashing of dozens of cameras bombarded the stage.

Amid all the noise and consternation, the woman handed the bundle gingerly to the professor, who took it with as much care as she had been holding it before and set it down on the table in front and to the right of him. With a flourish, he withdrew the cloth that had swaddled the package.

What sat there seemed to be a mockery of human and animal melded together. Though still the size of a regular infant, the creature was covered in a thick coat of downy white fuzz, giving it a `puffball' appearance. While most of its body retained a more human shape, vast and horrifying differences stood out on the extremities and facial features.

The infant's legs were fairly big already, with flesh and the same fuzz covering the thighs, but from the knees downward, the legs became thinner and lost the downy white appearance, instead taking a sickly pink hue. The being's feet were not even human at all, instead a form of webbed foot, composed of three `toes' going all the way back to the end of the foot and tipped with black nubs.

From out of the hybrid's back sprouted spindly wing-like appendages, hardly broader than its armspan, but no doubt avian in appearance. Its head was somewhat human, but instead of having lips and a nose, a short, thick beak protruded outwards, gaping open now and then to emit raucous warbling cries. Two male attendants quickly came out onto the stage to keep the creature calm and safe.

Gasps arose from the crowd, some startled, some horrified, and the flickering of the cameras started up again, causing the infant to flail about, crying and shutting its large black eyes against the glare. Professor Jackson and his attendants tried to calm the infant, the middle-aged man waving off the pressing flashbulbs.

“As you can see, Specimen One, or Janet, as our staff has named her, and I assure you, she is female, is a genetically engineered combination of human and skua gull.”

The press seemed silent, stunned, for several moments, digesting all this. Slowly, a few raised hands appeared amongst the multitudes. Jackson took enough time away from Janet to point out a short, stout woman with curly red hair in the middle.

“T-Theresa Gradner, f-from Popular Science. What…” at this the woman licked over her lips nervously, “What made you choose such a species as the gull? Why not something more closely related to humans, such as the chimpanzee?”

Jackson slowly stroked over Janet's downy head, the infant hybrid skrawking and trying to lean back and nip at his fingers. “Well, we wanted to throw common sense out the window and begin with a challenge, while still retaining a familiar breed of animal that could be dependent upon us. As you all know, gulls are often scavengers, depending a good deal on humans for food. They are also adaptable and intelligent. Combine all of this and you have a good test specimen to further experiments along down the road.”

A man rose next to Miss Gradner and quickly spoke up. “How did this spe-, er, how did Janet, come about, and why a female?”

The professor smiled wryly, the bristles of his mustache tilting upward. “The latter part of that question is simple to answer. In most animal cultures, the female is dominant. They have potential in areas males cannot access and are extremely flexible, and they are the core to breeding. Societies stem from around the female. With our plans to continue the project, it was thought best to go with a viable female first.”

“As to how she was conceived, well…we owe a great deal to the genetic manipulation technology that was introduced in 2006. Using it, we were able to take an unfertilized skua egg and implant human genetic tissue into it. After injection, we monitored and controlled its progress as necessary. By hyperstimulating the growth hormone HGH, we have greatly increased Janet's maturation process. Even though she was born only a few weeks ago, she is already three months old.”

The man raised an eyebrow and pointed the end of his pen at Jackson. “Was the donor of the tissue told that it was going to go to create…this?” He waved his hand off to the side at Janet, who squawked in his general direction.

The scientist frowned some. “That is confidential, sir. The donor, all of the donors who we have drawn tissue from, signed statements giving us full rights to their genes. In other words, they put themselves in our hands. I would think there no greater joy than to be involved in the creation of new life.”

A woman in the back stood up, drawing the elderly man's attention. “Professor Jackson, Jane Chevney from CNN. What do you have to say about the rumors that have been going nonstop from the onset of the announcement earlier today that this is nothing more than a military project?”

Jackson shook his head sternly, looking out at all the reporters as they furiously scribbled down his words. “While it is true the government is fully funding this project and has been in full knowledge of it since its conception, it is only to assure you, the public, that what is going on is legal and totally safe. We are going to take the best care of our charges, and see to it that they live normal lives. They will never be put into service for the military.”

Miss Chevney nodded, and then continued. “So you admit that you are going to create more of these hybrids?”

The professor nodded, his brows lowering over his eyes. “I have never denied that. It has been our goal from the beginning to create a multitude of these creatures, each unique and diverse. After we run a few more tests on Janet, we will begin creating other species hybrids.”

After finishing his latest statement, Jackson rose, taking up Janet and handing her to the two assistants, who quickly took her offstage as flashbulbs popped and the crowd's voices merged into a steady stream of questions, which the professor waved off with a hand. “No more questions for today.” He trudged off the stage with a sigh, leaving the press to speculate and report.

21:11, December 21, 2012

A television screen crackles with snow before steadying into the picture of a middle-aged blonde woman sitting at a news anchor desk. A thick line of fuzz runs down the picture a few times before vanishing into the bottom of the screen as the woman focuses on the viewers.

“Marcy Dedrick here at Channel 6 to continue with the ongoing Sydesico report. More protestors gathered outside Sydesico's main complex in Seattle today calling for the release or destruction of the growing hybrids held within the facility. They add to the growing number of people clamoring for more information regarding the creatures.”

“Since Professor Anthony Jackson's press meeting over two weeks ago, both PETA and a new group calling themselves the Hybrid Rights Activists have demanded outside inspections be taken of the facilities and of the hybrid `Janet' herself.”

“Reports from inside Sydesico claim that the utmost care is being taken with the young female and the new additions that have been recently created. Scientists working on the project are steadfastly refusing to allow inspectors from the outside agencies to be allowed inside, but it is obvious some middle ground needs to be found on this delicate subject before rioting occurs.”

“We'll bring you more news on this as it comes to us, but now for sports with-“

The picture shrinks in on itself as the screen goes dark, the last dot of light fading from its surface.

13:41, March 13, 2013

Professor Jackson stood at the panel-length window looking into the stark white room, hands clasped behind his back. Inside, Janet ran after a large ball as a female attendant sat near the door, smiling. A security officer stood to one side of the door, expressionless. Two other officers flanked the window on Jackson's side as well.

Without so much as turning to address his younger companion, Jackson spoke. “So, Thompson, how is she progressing?”

Thompson handled a clipboard, flipping up a page full of data. “Excellently, Professor. With our daily monitoring, we're able to take in the changes her body makes. So far, every physical test we've performed has gone smoothly. She's in perfect health.”

Jackson nodded slowly, his eyes fixated on his creation. “And the maturation process?”

“It seems to be going fluidly. The setbacks we set into her system are still holding, and upon inspection today, we've concluded that she's just over three years old.”

Jackson sniffed, slipping his hands into his coat pockets. “Excellent, excellent. And what about her mind? Is it handling the stress of the learning program?”

“Exceptionally, sir. She is introduced to new concepts and images daily, and already her vocabulary is at the level of an eight-year-old's. She reacts to new things positively and is adept at problem-solving.”

Jackson nodded several times. “Very good.” He took his eyes off the room to glance at Thompson sternly. “I don't have to remind you how important Janet is to the project. If any, any, flaw or miscalculation is found, it could spell ruin for the other hybrids.”

Thompson nodded briskly, clenching his hand tighter on the clipboard and wetting his lips. “Yes sir.”

Jackson turned back to the room, studying the gull. “Speaking of which, how do they all react to one another?”

“Um…they seem to be interacting well enough. Since Janet is the oldest and most developed, they seem to look to her as an authority figure and give her some room. She has trouble sharing with the others, and it seems she's developed something of a stubborn streak. We've been noticing personality quirks in the others as well.”

The professor's lips curled up in a wry smile. “Well, they say pride is a sin, but shouldn't every first-born child be proud of their stature, somewhat? Really, it was to be expected that they would all start to establish themselves in their own ways. As long as it doesn't impede progress, I consider it a good omen.”

Jackson turned from the window and looked at his assistant. “Now then, I'm off to check on the development room. Inform me of any and all changes immediately.” He turned on his heel and started down the hallway, his footfalls echoing in the corridor.

“Of course, sir.”

Janet looked to the mirror inside the stark-white room in curiosity, pausing in her play with the ball. The female attendant in the room seemed to notice her pause and pushed the ball over to her, the gull picking it up and bouncing it a few times, a smile slowly coming over her beak once more.

Though still young, the training program the men in suits were putting her through was already taking its toll on her body and mind. She had little of the `fat' look a young child would have, and she was quick on her feet, her growing wings often helping to push her along or change course faster than normal.

In her mind, however, a war was being waged. Her body demanded little attention other than food and natural processes, of which she was still learning, but the concepts she had been taught were making her more precocious than any three-year-old should ever be. She was often polite and respectful to her trainer, though the men with the sticks and radios made her nervous.

It often grew boring for her in her room, as she wasn't allowed to do more than play with a few toys. Being out with the others, those like herself, was often fun…but she was growing to see the differences between her and them, and often thought of herself as better than them, or different, at the very least.

She turned to the female attendant and let the ball drop. “Could I have some crayons?”

The young woman across from her blinked in surprise, before looking to the mirror for a second. Then she turned to the man at the door, who remained silent. Getting up, the woman seemed to hesitate, before looking down to the Janet and nodding slowly. “Well, sure! Why not.”

The man at the door pressed a few buttons at a keypad and she stepped outside as the door slid open. Janet was alone with the silent guard for a few minutes before the woman returned with a box of crayons and several sheets of paper, the young gull gladly taking them and sprawling out on her stomach to draw, every so often looking over to the mirror again.

November 21, 2013

Professor Jackson sat in his office, glasses set upon his desk, fingers rubbing at the bridge of his nose. Across from him was Thompson, fiddling with a pen and looking nervous. “Professor Jackson, sir…is everything alright?”

Jackson spared a glance to his subordinate before sighing. Thompson was younger, so he was allowed to be unsure. He wasn't the one in charge of the entire laboratory complex. He didn't have to go through everything the older man did. “Tell me, Thompson…do you think the project has been going well?”

The younger scientist sat up straight, taking the opportunity to beam widely. “Of course! All of the first subjects are showing to be in fine health and progressing quickly through skills training and their lessons, and the second round is showing no abnormalities. It's a bit early to give a prognosis for the third set, since they were created less than a month ago, but none of the `births' came up negative in any categories, and they're showing fine read-outs.”

Jackson picked up his glasses and put them on his nose, resting his elbows upon his desk and crossing his fingers together, eyes focusing on the old analog clock that slowly ticked away, the sound filling the silent room. “So, you wouldn't say that the pressures from outside organizations, the attempts to gain genetic material from our New Jersey labs, nor the constant military secrecy has you worried?”

Thompson's smile fell with every word, until he looked as nervous as before. “Um…I…no. I don't really think of those things.”

Jackson flicked his eyes from his clock to his assistant. “And why don't you? Aren't these things important?”

The blond man cleared his throat and fiddled more with his pen, brushing a stray lock of hair from his sweaty forehead. “Y-yes! Of course they are…but we have others who look after those things! Public Relations handles the military and radical groups, and we can't be expected to do anything about a lab across the country.”

Jackson nodded sagely. “You speak correctly, Thompson. We have plenty of employees and departments to handle all these problems. But you forget that with my station in this project, I have to deal with all these things directly as well.”

“Oh…well, yes…”

Jackson went on, drumming his fingers on his knuckles. “So while you are focusing on the subjects themselves, I have to focus not only on our primary work, but on all of our public relations, on the lab's security, and especially on our benefactors' satisfaction. So you'll have to forgive me if I disagree with your assessment of our current situation.”

Thompson's head sank, and while the young researcher remained silent, the professor stood slowly with a grunt. “Come on, then. We have to get back to looking over the subjects. We have a representative from the military here today.” Thompson nodded somberly, and followed his elder out the door.

Janet reclined upon her bed, staring at the blank ceiling. She was ten now, or so she gathered from mumbles the doctors let slip while she was being poked and prodded. She was about four and a half feet tall, her body having blossomed, with her chest grown out some, her thighs and upper arms strong and lightly muscled. Her wings were fully functional now, though she had not really had the chance to ever use them, confined as she was in the rooms of the complex.

She never wondered about why her body grew so fast. It had always been natural for her, and she noticed it was the same for the others she had grown up with. The fact that there were more now didn't bother her either. The younger kids simply kept to themselves, and she paid little attention to them.

The learning programs she was subjected to had long progressed her past elementary school, and now she was dealing with advanced mathematics and tactical strategies. She missed the earlier days when she was taught everything, but now that she was older, the teaching was selective. Half of what she learned was general knowledge, but the other half dealt strictly with military information, from vehicle and weaponry specs to global situations and figureheads.

She was able to choose subjects of her own, but the information she was provided was severely edited. English and history dealt only with journalism and military and politics, while the sciences were almost nil. She turned to her physical training to find enjoyment instead, and had individual teachers for judo and tae kwon do, and a general teacher for physical education.

Days passed with the same monotony, although from time to time there would be scuffles among the others, or there would be new faces among those that watched her train. She accepted these things as readily as the next, even though the fact that she was being watched every minute of her life was beginning to grow annoying.

She heard something from the wall near the mirror, and turned to look. There was nothing there, of course…but by now she knew it was the scientists come to look her over. With a sigh, she rolled back over and curled up to get some sleep, thinking no more of such things.

December 21, 2014

Professor Jackson sat wringing his hands beneath the conference table, trying to remain calm under the questioning of his sponsors. Around the room sat military heads and government officials, each interested in their `little nest egg'. In the previous meetings, things had proceeded calmly, but now that the project was coming to a head, tempers were rising and threats were being made.

“Dr. Jackson, we've been waiting and watching your subjects grow for two years now.” This came from a black-haired man in glasses who gently tapped his fingers over some sheets. “We realize you said the maturation process would take three years to complete, but you'll have to understand our…nervousness. My department is having inquiries into the project every week.”

Jackson brushed at his moustache before bringing his hands up to the table and trying to still the shakes in them. “Mr. Roberts, I understand that you and everyone else are taking this very seriously indeed, and I've been immensely grateful for your support and the amenities you've provided us with.”

“However, I cannot speed this up. You've had our reports every day from the start, and they no doubt explain how well things are going. Nonetheless, we have to take every caution against infection, injury, and most importantly, genetic flaws.”

Roberts and his companions spoke amongst themselves for a few moments, while the others continued to look over their reports. Finally, the black-haired man turned back to the doctor. “Of course we understand, but if you cannot speed up your scientific processes, perhaps the training programs can be enhanced? I'm sure your first set of subjects are ready for field training and combat exercises.”

The professor adjusted his glasses and wet his lips. “That is up to yourself and our trainers, of course. I'm concerned with the growth of my creations and seeing the project to its fruition. But as I understand, if you intend to bring them out into the field so soon, extra measures will have to be taken to ensure the continued secrecy of the project's military aspects.”

Roberts nodded and waved off the scientist's words. “I'm certain we can handle any extra press or the intrusion of foreign influences. But we won't be selling this to anyone if we cannot convince our buyers of the project's success. While we've seen what your creations can do, our outside interests must be shown what they are getting themselves into as well.”

Jackson calmed visibly, nodding. “Gentleman, I put my trust in you to keep this project going, as it was you who approached me in the first place. As long as you understand that I must nurture the hybrids to completion and keep everything on pace, what you do with the final product is up to you.”

Roberts smiled, and the others smiled with him. “But of course, Doctor. Remember, we're putting our trust in you, too.”

Janet sat in one of the common rooms, those reserved for activity among the hybrids, watching the world's news. The anchor was talking about how India and Pakistan were upping the stakes in their constant border conflicts. To the gull, it was just another boring story that never ended. Some of the others found it interesting to see what went on in the world outside, but after being subjected to the news every day, Janet found she could care less about what happened.

Around her, the others were eating, watching other television sets, or engaging themselves in one of the allowed activities. Along one wall was a huge glass panel that looked into a gymnasium and weight room, where a handful of feline males were playing a game of basketball.

By now, she and the rest of the first set had grown to be 18 years of age, and with each passing day, Janet grew more bored and uncaring. Sometimes fights broke out that would draw her interest, but in the end, she found out she didn't care who won or lost…or even if anyone died.

The only thing that seemed to interest her were the martial arts. Able to fully explore the subject as it was deemed useful to her growth, she had opened up into new schools and now practiced both Jeet Kune Do and Muay-Thai Kickboxing daily. The doctors and trainers had allowed her a practice dummy in her room, which she used to train whenever she felt too pent-up or angry.

The clearing of a throat drew her out of her thoughts, and she looked up to see two male avians before her, one an eagle and the other a smaller hawk. It was the eagle who had made the sound, and now he motioned to the television. “Pretty interesting stuff, wouldn't you say?”

Janet shrugged, focusing on the two only a tad more than she had focused on the news program. She recalled seeing them about, but their names escaped her, much as she would really care to know them. “It's all the same to me. Just gets more pointless everyday.”

The hawk stepped forward a bit, ruffling out his brown-feathered wings. “Well then, did you want to go talk or play some cards? You never seem to do anything except sit around.”

Janet cracked her neck idly and looked at the male with one black eye. “That's because everything else is just as pointless, and I don't want to associate with anyone else. So you can just go find some other woman to strut around.”

The hawk looked startled, while his larger companion looked extremely displeased. “You're such a bitch, you know? You've always been that way. People try to get to know you and you act as if they're worthless. Maybe it's time someone showed you otherwise.”

He raised his clenched fist to bring it down upon her, but she was faster. Standing in an instant, she brought the side of her hand to his neck and he went down like a rock. The hawk moved almost as fast as she did, and as he shot out his taloned foot in a straight kick, she dodged just enough so that it scraped along her side instead of catching her in the solar plexus.

Red blood stained her feathers, and she fell back down with a gasp, a burning pain making her clutch up. She barely heard the shrill whistle from the guards, and it was as if she was watching from far away as two men tackled the hawk, more bustling in to grab her by the shoulders and take her out. Her head lolled a bit, so that she could see a pair of doctors hefting up the prone eagle.

It was so strange, the feeling in her side. She had felt the pain of her muscles aching after working out, and the internal pain of a headache or her empty stomach, but this was the first time she'd ever experienced true pain, the burning sensation of ripped flesh and blood pouring out to sting along her skin.

She dazedly watched as the doctors cleaned away the blood and used medical lasers to seal the three cuts back up, and even as the pain passed, she barely moved as the guards led her to her room and tossed her in. Crawling to her bed, she curled up and tried to regain some sense of reality.

Rubbing at her side, she tried to recall why it felt so strange to have never been hurt before. It made her think of how her life had simply been day after day of monotony and training…how the aches and pains had simply faded into the regular tone of things. If this had been so different, so bad a thing…why had it freed her from the dredges of her life here?

She looked down to the place where she'd been wounded, the lasers having cleared any mark from her body. If the world out there, the world in which walls weren't always white and the news didn't always play, was like this…perhaps it was better for her to be out there, than in here.

August 7, 2015

“We have a situation!”

“Fight breaking out in common room 3! Two casualties confirmed!”

“Break out the gas! We need to get this under control as quickly as possible!”

Professor Jackson stared glumly at a screen in the lab's main control room, watching as two of his creations grappled each other over a blood-strewn floor. From outside the door, he heard guards clomping down the corridor at a run and stepped away from the monitors to follow them, Thompson at his heels.

Two guards flanked the door as they approached, tazer guns and grenades in their hands as they crouched, two similarly armed men right behind them. From within they could hear the roars of the combatants, and at times a flash of movement was seen through the porthole upon the door.

As he came up, one of the men looked to him, and he gave a nod. The guard pointed two fingers to the door and keyed it open, two live grenades flying in as soon as it slid open. Moments later explosions were heard amid the roaring and thumping of the two huge hybrids within, and the guard keyed the door shut quickly as a pale-yellow gas began to fill the porthole.

Within, the noises grew muffled and weak, until two thumps signaled the fighting had ceased, and there came a soft whir as overhead vents inside the room began to suck up the gas. Another minute passed before a radio crackled at the guard's waist, telling them they could go in.

The door was keyed open once more, and the four men quickly entered, flanking out about the room and attending to the bodies. Jackson and Thompson entered last, the professor beginning to look the gruesome scene over. In the corner lay three crumpled, but breathing, bodies, most likely the hybrids who were trying to get out of the way of the fight.

In front of him, laying amidst pools of blood, were four prone bodies. Jackson could immediately discern the two casualties: a monitor lizard and a bull, both males. The other two were those who had to be gassed, and while each was breathing, the doctor saw that one would not survive.

He bent close over a male elephant who's throat had been severely savaged by the crocodilian he'd been fighting with, and even as slow breaths were drawn in and out through the gurgling trachea, Jackson put the creature off as the third death. The crocodilian, though bruised and likely having a few broken ribs and limbs, would survive and heal up, with some work by the doctors.

“Thompson, mark it down as three dead. The rest of you, clear this place out and see that the survivor gets as much treatment as he needs, then have him disciplined.” The pair of researchers left the room again, Jackson letting out a tired sigh. “It's always the larger ones that get themselves into these things. Still, that's only been the seventh death out of 258 subjects. Not a bad thing, given so many different personalities and rivalries.”

Thompson was finishing up his writing, nodding as the walked down the corridor, doctors heading back to help with the situation. “Not a bad thing at all, sir. Perhaps we should think about keeping the animals to their own kind, though.”

The older man shook his head, looking into the windows from time to time as they passed by rooms. “Nonsense. As much as I hate to see these things happen, it hardens the rest, gives them a taste for what they shall eventually live like. Now then, about…”

Thompson nearly bumped into the professor, quickly backing up and looking to his elder, who was now looking through a large window into one of the rooms. “About what, sir?”

Jackson pointed into the room, where a teenage cougar hybrid sat curled up upon his bed. Through the glass both men could hear whimpering, but the guard stationed inside didn't seem to care about his tenant, looking rather boredly about the room. The cougar's body was marred by bruises and whip-marks, and both his eyes appeared blackened by beatings.

“Who is that, and why is he in such a condition? Why have the doctors not worked upon him?”

The younger assistant shook his head, and then excused himself. He went to the door and keyed it open, while Jackson continued to watch the cougar shiver and shake, knees clutched up to his chest. When Thompson returned, he looked nervous.

“Urm…the guard says that is Brian, one of our third set subjects. Apparently the training has not been going well for him. He's degraded to a near childlike mentality and refuses to continue in any combat exercises, so the guards and trainers beat him. If…if you like, I can have someone monitor him more closely, do a few tests on him…”

Jackson nodded. “Yes, that would be wise. Have someone monitor his physical processes and send him to the psych ward. It was to be expected that the training would get to some of them…I just hope nothing is wrong with him genetically.”

Thompson made a few notes and became absorbed in his work once more as the two men headed off again, having further things to worry about.

November 13, 2015

Jackson was in a better mood than he'd been in weeks. He led a group of reporters and activist representatives down the corridors, occasionally stopping to allow them to view some of his creations as they went about their lives.

“As you can see, the facility continues to provide for every one of the hybrids within our care, especially at this crucial point. As you may know, we celebrated the project's third year just two days ago, and things couldn't have gone more smoothly. All of our first subjects have completed their maturation processes and are now aging normally, ready to be introduced into the world in just a few months.”

The journalists furiously scribbled down on their notepads while the rest of the men and women looked in on the hybrids, seeming to will something to happen so they could jump upon the professor. “What about Janet? How has your first subject fared through all this?”

Jackson put on his best smile, nodding. They were always interested in Janet, the gull being the darling they all remembered back at the original press conference. With a flourishing wave, he led them onward to her room. “But of course, Janet has been one of our premier concerns. If anything were to happen to her, we would have to inspect every one of the others to make sure it was not something wrong in their genetic codes.”

Inside, Janet worked with her training dummy, causing some of the representatives to cluck their tongues in disapproval. As they watched her arms beat against the multiple wooden arms, Jackson cleared his throat. “We attempt to keep all our hybrids in shape, and allow them to enjoy physical activities of their choosing. Janet long ago became interested in the martial arts, and so we have allowed her to practice it as she likes. She has already created a combination of two schools that is totally unique to her!”

One of the women in the group turned to him. “Aren't you worried they'll hurt themselves doing things like this? We've seen you keep this trend of physical training every time.”

Professor Jackson nodded sagely, keeping up his smile even though he grew irritated by the question. It was always like this with the activists. He was only too happy that they didn't know the full truth behind everything. “We monitor them very closely to ensure there are no injuries, and with the amount of work they've gone through in their activities, they're quite able to take care of themselves.”

The woman didn't look mollified, but she didn't ask any more questions, and Jackson waved onward down the corridor. “Come, how about we have a look at the second and third sets…”

Janet worked ceaselessly in her daily exercises, her arms and legs moving with lightning-quick speed as she trained with the wooden dummy. Every so often, her eyes would slide over to the guard, noting how he stood and watched, whether or not he was truly paying attention to her.

In the last months, the scientists had been extremely excited when they examined her. They seemed quite interested in how her body was holding up, and while Janet did not feel injured or ill in any way, she did feel that something was changing in her body.

The scientists all mumbled about how the maturation process was complete, and Janet figured that meant she would no longer be growing. Indeed, her body's processes seemed to have slowed incredibly, even though she retained her reflexes and skills.

She was 28 now, and stood at 6'2”, weighing in at 135 pounds due to her near-hollow bones, the scientists said. Her body was powerfully muscled, though the feathers covering it gave it a sleek, soft look. Janet was proud of her training, of her abilities…yet in the end, it all came down to the fact that she had them due to the constant pushing and prodding the men in charge gave her.

She heard voices from outside the wall, and glanced over to the mirror. It could be a journalist tour going by, or perhaps an inspection. Either way, it meant more people were staring at her, assessing her traits and skills as if she were little more than an item at auction. It stirred a hatred in her, driving her onward in her training.

For several months now, she had known what her purpose would be, after the scientists were done with her. The military would take her and put her into life-long service, perhaps even selling her skills as a commando to another country. In her mind, it didn't take a genius to make this realization, what with the constant military training and knowledge being ground into each hybrid's mind.

But she would have none of it. She had long ago grown bored with this place, and she had no doubt she would grow bored of the endless fighting as well. So, she had devised a plan to escape, one that she had been running through her mind every day, ingraining herself with the corridors, exits, and guard shifts.

It wouldn't be easy, but if anyone could do it, she was sure it was her. She would give the people here one last glimpse of what they had brought into the world, before freeing herself forever from their clutches.

November 15, 2015

Professor Jackson was sitting in his office, hurriedly going over paperwork, when Thompson burst in. “Sir! Sir, we have a very big problem, here.”

Jackson's hand squeezed about the pen he was holding, feeling his heart speed up. A problem this late in the program? After so many successes? He wet his lips and set his work down. “What is it? Another fatality?”

His assistant shook his head, clearly looking nervous as well, before handing him several sheets of paper. “Um…I don't know if you recall, but there's a specimen by the name of Brian, a cougar-hybrid. You asked us to monitor him a bit more closely, and we've found something.”

Jackson absently shook his head, scanning over the papers. He didn't recall the creature, but if there was a problem, he'd be sure to fix it. As his eyes sped down the readouts, they suddenly widened in shock. “This…this can't be! His enhanced maturation has stopped!? But he's one of the third set!”

Thompson swallowed, looking frantic. “I know, sir. I know. The hyperstimulation of HGH in his system simply wore off. It hasn't happened in any of the other hybrids in the third set, but this couldn't be overlooked.”

The professor pounded his fist upon his desk, making his clock wobble. “Dammit! Why now? We have the final military inspection for our first set in five days, and then they're out within a month.” He read over the sheets again, trying to make sense of the problem. “I want every one of the specimens gone over again, take everything into account.”

The younger man nodded quickly, wringing his hands as he turned about and headed off, quickly beginning to order inspections. Jackson slowly slumped back into his chair, praying that this was simply a fluke and that his head wouldn't be on the block for everything.

Lately, Janet had been taking note of another hybrid when she was allowed into the common rooms. This was a young cougar who never spoke to anyone, but merely curled up in a corner with a magazine or a television near him and cringing when anyone came near him.

At times, he appeared healthy, but there were days when she saw bruises about his arms and shoulders, and the occasional black eye. It struck her as strange, since he hardly seemed the type to fight with anyone. But as the days went by and she monitored him more, she came to realize he was different from everyone else here.

He was slimly built and lightly muscled, but he never took interest in playing or working out, and anyone who tried to talk to him was met with silence. To Janet, he appeared very child-like, even though he was probably at the age of 16 or so. His every motion read of fear and cowardice, emotions so alien to her that she didn't know what would cause them.

However, because he was so different, her attention was drawn to him each and every time the guards brought him in. She felt a stir of pity for him, knowing he would never be able to fit in with the rest, seeing in his injuries how he was treated…yet at the same time she envied him for being able to feel afraid, something she had never felt before.

One time, she had gone up to him, meaning to see if she couldn't pry something from him. But as she had approached, he had started shivering, curling up even tighter and averting his gaze from her.

“Hey, what's your name?”

The young hybrid simply shook more, his tail curling up against his quaking legs. Letting out a sigh, Janet looked around. The guards paid them little attention, and none of the other subjects about the room seemed to care either.

“Look, why don't you just say something to me? Anything?”

Again, she received nothing but more shivering and a frightened glance at her. Normally, being ignored would have angered her enough to provoke a fight from her, but with him, she felt it would be useless.

“Fine then, have it your way.”

Even this, a parting jab, had no effect on him, and with a dejected shake of her head, the gull went off to sit down once more, her eyes glancing from time to time at him, unable to shake the emotions he stirred within her.

21: 05, November 30, 2015

Janet had never felt so nervous in her life. She tried to work out the feeling on her training dummy, but she slipped up more often than she hit, and she eventually went back to her bed to try and calm herself down.

Tonight was the night she planned to make her escape. Her hand had been forced a little ever since the inspection a week and a half ago, where she had overheard enough to know she and the rest of the first set were going to be secretly shipped out soon, perhaps in a day or two.

While working the frustration of not knowing down out of her body, she glanced to her guard every few minutes. He was quiet and emotionless as usual, though his glances to her worried her. Perhaps he knew the plans for moving her out as well, and sympathized with her nervousness, incorrect as that was.

Finally, after five minutes of going through everything in her head, she felt as calm and as ready as she would ever be. She stood and approached the guard, making a note to fidget and squeeze her thighs together.

“I need to use the restroom…please.”

The man stared at her in surprise, and seemed about to object, but instead shrugged and nodded. “Right.” He turned and keyed the door open, stepping out first. As he did so, Janet launched the side of her hand out in a strike to the back of his neck, the guard letting out a wheezing grunt before toppling into the hallway.

Working fast, her fingers deftly undid the straps over his tazer and nightstick, the gull tossing them back under her bed and slipping out into the corridor. As soon as she was out, she started down the hallway at a run, knowing the cameras would spot her almost instantly.

As she made a right into another section of corridor, klaxons began to flare, and she heard dim shouts coming from within the rooms she sped past. Her webbed feet slapped upon the marble as she ran, eyes flicking to the windows that led into each room.

Soon the stomp of boots became apparent as the guards came after her. Rounding another corner, she nearly ran into two men, one of whom leveled a dart gun up to her, the gull barely able to throw herself to the ground in time as the projectile whizzed over her head.

Her leg swept out to catch theirs, sending them both to the ground in a heap as she quickly got to her feet once more and hopped over their struggling forms, ignoring the pain as one caught the back of her lower leg with his nightstick. Hobbling a few steps before picking up a run again, she resumed her flight down the corridors, until she came to the room she had been looking for.

Inside lay the cougar (whom she had found out was named Brian), curled up upon his bed and looking around in fright at the alarms. Guards were beginning to come down the hallway she was in, more darts zipping past her as she ducked around the corner and began pounding at the door, stepping back and aiming her hardest kick to the keypad next to it.

The broken device crackled and shot sparks as the door slid open, the gull wasting no time in shoving herself into the room, taking a blow aimed at her from the guard's nightstick upon her raised lower arm and dropping him with a knee to the groin.

Brian looked at her in confusion and fear, but Janet merely grabbed him by the arm and started to drag him along. A grenade bounced into the room, skidding upon the floor before exploding in a flash, the two hybrids diving out as the gas began to fill the chamber.

Three guards surrounded them, two of them leaping at Janet while the other sought to grab Brian. The gull deftly avoided one, but the other dragged her down, and she felt the jabbing shock of a tazer in her side. Her body went into spasms, but she found enough control to drive her elbow into the side of his temple, and the tazer dropped.

Barely able to stand, she could only wrestle with the second guard as he leapt upon her and sought to hold her down, the gull finding enough room to drive the heel of her palm up against his nose, rewarded with a splintery crack and a gush of blood over her feathers.

Wincing in pain and exhaustion and rolling the limp body from off of her, she was in no shape to grapple with the third guard, who had released Brian to come after her. Seeing the fallen tazer, she picked it up just as the man fell upon her, the gull jabbing the device into his side and turning it up to full.

The body atop her flailed and struck at her shoulders and face before going limp, the smell of smoking flesh filling the air amidst the vapors of the gas leaking out from the cougar's room. Janet's eyesight grew hazy, and she weakly tried to lift the body from her, but she was finding it hard to stay awake.

A hand grasped at her own, and she found the strength to clench her fist over it, her body being dragged out from under the guard's, arms picking her up and leaning her against a warm, furred body. Her eyes focused enough to see Brian supporting her, his eyes wide with fear, not for himself…but for her!

She smiled and weakly pointed down the corridor, her feet dragging as the cougar carried her along. Mumbling directions to her companion, she was able to direct him to one of the emergency exits, the sign above it flashing along with the alarms. Voices were coming from throughout the complex as people fought to control the situation.

Brian carried her out of the building and into the woods beyond, Janet grateful that such a complex had to be disguised as a civilian building, rather than a military one. Voices cried out from the building as it faded into the distance, lights sometimes sweeping over the blanketing trees.

It grew harder for Janet to stay awake, but Brian simply plodded on, the young hybrid seeming to not care about the weight resting upon his shoulder. Soon, Janet was set down upon the warm, soft earth, her head lolling as she stared up at the needled trees and the stars that shone above in the sky.

A warm weight pressed against her tightly, hands caressing her face. She squinted up at Brian, seeing tears in his eyes. Her smile grew wider, and for once in her life, she knew she had done the right thing. “Thank you…”

Brian nodded, his tears spilling down upon her soft feathers. He spoke, then, his voice cracked and soft from disuse. “We're going to be safe, aren't we?”

Janet nodded, even as she felt exhaustion and sleep dragging her down. “Yes, we're going to be safe now…and free.”

The End