Charles slammed the whiskey back and squinted at her.
Five hours. He and Tory had spent five hours examining the creature, five hours of gasping none-stop in sheer disbelief. Once, not too long ago but very, very far away, Charles had worked at one of the top researching universities in the country, part of a specialized team on the forefront of new finds across the field of zoology, making many diverse discoveries. Hippopotamus sweat as a natural antiseptic? They’d started that. He had personally seen to the re-identification of five species, and had helped with the classification of four entirely new ones.
Well all that had just gone out the window.
Tory was just about squealing in excitement. While Charles had been shocked, frozen, and now probably more than a little drunk, Tory had been taking copious notes and babbling all the while. Every now and again he would shoot a question at ‘the Doc’ to make sure he had it straight, but most often it was all Charles could do to nod his shaky agreement from the depths of his own thoughts. Tory had so far begun compiling his list of proofs: The creature was firstly undoubtedly a vertebrate, though her skeletal structure was still to be studied. She was also clearly mammalian, as her body temperature and reproductive organs attested. Tory had made certain that was clear. Then he had begun with other physical characteristics. Over the hours the creature had slipped in and out of consciousness, and Tory alternated between staring into her giant golden eye when it opened (He decided that it must be capable of immense colour and depth perception, and excellent night vision) and poking at her mouth and when she was out. He pointed out he blunted flat teeth as a sign that she was a herbivore, and that her ‘hooves’ supported the notion.
Charles’ mind had stopped responding at that point. Everything he knew…Her body temperature was fluctuating wildly, more than enough to kill any creature he could name. Her proportions were insanely illogical, her external organs only barely recognizable. Her ‘hooves’ were unlike anything he had ever seen, a soft keratin surface barely an inch high that encircled three quarters of the end of each limb, the same colour as the dull fur that covered the rest of her body. He teeth were definitely herbivorous, he had no doubt, but her jaw was far too delicate for such purposes, her body too small to support the organs necessary for digesting most plant material, and certainly not grass. And those were only the things he was currently able to process. Neither of them had yet to broach the obviously impossible facet of the situation. She had goddamned wings.
Charles poured himself another whiskey.
To the average person, the creature they had found was extraordinary, but to Charles’ experienced eye, everything about her was incredibly and profoundly wrong. But he was sure so far that she was real. He had inspected her closely before, had touched her. She was there, alive, and was no hoax. Her…wings were real too. Almost laughably small and clearly useless, but they were functional. She was impossible, but the sight of the ash-grey body lying on the table was quickly chipping away at his cynicism.
He gulped the whiskey, and dropped the empty tumbler, gasping, “Tory, recap for me, please.”
“Right, Doc, uhh…” The intern scrabbled back through his notes scattered on the table til he found the right page, “Okay, so far I’ve fit her into Chordata Mammalia Theria... Eutheria at a pinch, though beyond that I’m not sure. Maybe she fits into Perissodactyla…perhaps…family Equidae?”
Charles let out a harsh laugh. “Tory, are you trying to suggest that this…this thing is a bloody horse?”
“Well, Doc, be reasonable,” Tory lowered the paged as poked his chewed-up pencil at the creature, and more specifically its feathered appendages, “She can’t be a horse; she has wings. Horses don’t usually have those, you know.”
Charles stood up aggressively, “Then what Tory? This creature shouldn’t fit any of these classifications! It shouldn’t exist at all. Its genome must be the most convoluted mess of traits on the planet. None of it makes sense, and then you go and call it a winged horse…” His eyes widened, and he turned to face the smug-looking Tory, standing with a few pages in his grip, “Tory, are you trying to suggest that this is a Pegasus?”
Tory’s smirk never lowered, “I dunno Doc, that’s all Greek to me.”
Charles distinctly failed to respond.
“Okay, maybe it’s too soon for that,” Tory rushed over to the creature’s side. She had passed out again, and her body temperature had plummeted to thirty two degrees Celsius, but they had already realized there was nothing they could do to bring it up without causing it to rocket to the other extreme. Her injuries were treated, Charles having almost mechanically stitched and treated every injury Tory could not treat with a salve or bandage, and her body had been gently sluiced with water, partly to cool her down and to clean her fur. Her damaged eye they had been unable to look at, and they could do little for the gashes in her throat: Charles had stitched what he could and had inserted two drains to handle fluids, but otherwise they’d had to leave them open. Truly, the fact that she was alive at all was miraculous.
Tory pulled up and old x-ray scan and placed it next to the sleeping body, “Look here Doc: this is a scan of a foal. Look how the joints line up on both the front and hind legs, and the longer dock in the tails. Even the rib and spinal structures are quite similar. The only major differences are her shoulder blades – and of course her wings – and her cranium. Her head’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen, but this is the best thing I have to go on right now.”
Charles glared at his intern, wondering whether to question his sanity or admit being mad himself and actually go along with this hypothesis.
The internal struggle was a short one. He sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Okay Tory, I admit, you were very thorough, and that’s better than my idea.”
“Russians.” Charles barked. He shook off his funk and stood tall. Whether this made more sense because of the science or the whiskey, he wasn’t quite sure, but he had work to do. “Right, get a sampling kit and see about an X-ray gantry. I’ll get to the bottom of this, be it biological tampering, mutation or the breaking of reality. I didn’t give up my freedom to be stymied after one afternoon.”
It’s hard to stay awake.
I want to, I really do, but my body wants to sleep. First I’m cold, so cold all I want to do is escape it, then I’m hot, like being dipped in lava. I’m not a dragon. But either way, eventually it just stops hurting, and I feel…warm, almost fuzzy, like curling up in a big wide blanket and watching the snow fall just inches from the window, beautiful but not at all cold.
…I don’t know where that all came from. Snow? It falls from the sky like rain, but in tiny little crystals, I know that. I know what the heat of a fire feels like, and I’ve seen shards of glass. I remember the caress of a blanket without remembering whose it was, or when they gave it to me. I just remember staring out at a world much bigger than myself in wonder while my young wings tried to beat the air, and an older voice chuckled warmly behind me. I’d felt so much like dashing out and playing in the falling snow. Now I just didn’t even want to wake up from the memory while I had it.
But I did wake up sometimes. It was an instinct, driving me to make sure, once more, that I was safe. Every time I did, though, I felt…violated. I could feel Them poking at me, moving me around. They weren’t just cleaning my wounds anymore, they were inspecting me. Studying me. I couldn’t stop them though. It was all I could do to stiffen at their uncomfortable touch, either hot or deathly cold. When I did, I found myself staring up into a pair of sparkling brown eyes. I would blink, and He would giggle and scribble at a piece of paper beside me. I would look away, and he would gasp in excitement. He shone a light at my eye once, but quickly stopped and just stared, entranced. Until I blinked again, and he started scribbling.
I made a game of it for a while.
I had slipped back into sleep after that, and I only heard a few words every few minutes. It felt like a peaceful doze, just listening to the world. Every now and again, they would prod at me again, but I didn’t want to respond. They weren’t hurting me. I could feel my wounds, and they felt better. My side didn’t burn anymore, my legs were wrapped up snugly in bandages, and a poultice was carefully placed on my head where I had been hit before. They had even bathed me in cool water. I felt clean and fresh and calm. Nothing would rouse me.
“Tory, are you trying to suggest that this is a Pegasus?”
I heard his voice, hissed, uncertain. The younger One said something right after that, but I wasn’t listening. Pegasus. That word meant something, something huge, monumental. I felt that if I could grasp it, I’d understand what I had lost. Or, at least some part of it.
I felt awake. Euphoria from being freed and being treated had made my mind fuzzy. The comfort I had been hoping for had been found, and so I had slept. Now, I need to find something else.
I need to find myself.
I start to feel my body again. I reach with my mind for my right front leg. I can’t look at it, I’m too tired, but I can feel what’s there. It’s bruised and beaten, but wrapped in bandages, usable. My left front leg is a little better, but stiff. My left rear feels badly bruised near the upper reaches of my thigh, and higher yet I feel the soft press of more cloth. My entire rear has been wrapped against the savaging I had received while trying to turn and run. It’s my right rear leg that worries me, though. It feels like something inside isn’t working properly, because I can’t feel my skin.
My wings are both ragged, but okay. The feathers will grow back correctly. They’re tough. My neck hurts so much, but I can breathe properly again, and I can’t taste copper. My whole body is listening to me, and it wants me to tell it what to do. Waiting to learn what it is. And I can tell it who it belongs to again.
That at least, I can tell it that. Because I am a Pegasus.
I open my eyes.
The world looks a little brighter than it did before. The room is a slightly whiter shade of white, the sheet around me no longer bloodied. There are papers in front of me, on them lots of sketches of all sorts of things, some of feathers, another of a large eye, and one that looks strikingly like my hoof print. Some tools lie there as well; a few strange tubes, syringes and a bent sickle-shaped needle and blue thread,. I hate needles!
Suddenly I feel a prick against my back.
I stiffen, properly this time. The more I tense, the more it pinches. I don’t like that.
They’re talking, but I’m not listening. They can’t poke at me anymore, I don’t like that! I’d thank them for helping me if I could, and I’d tell them to leave me alone. I want to rest now, spread my wings in the sunlight and lay in the grass. So I roll over and spread my one wing. There’s a shout, and my suddenly my back is burning.
“Damnit, she broke the needle!”
I roll away from the pain, and find myself in empty space. I see ground rushing towards me, and then I stop.
My hooves have found the ground.
I look at the hooves below me, planted foursquare as they support my weight, and my heart soars. My wings are half spread. I can feel everything. My right hind leg twinges, but I’m standing strong. I look up with my good eye, and see the Young One, the one who’s been studying me all this time. He’s holding a cracked syringe as he stares back at me. I feel a twinge in my back.
You hurt Me.
I rush him. It’s my only chance! I flare my wings and try to jump up a little, but my leg stumbles, and I fall into him. I manage to knock him over, and I find myself standing on his chest, unsure of what to do. I don’t know how I got here, I just did it. Then I spot his hand reaching for my neck. No you don’t! I stamp on his stomach and he gasps out all his breath, lurching forward, launching me up. I jump as well, and push him back into the floor.
I’m in the air, and it feels wonderful.
A moment later I crash down on the table again, sliding along with all the papers and tools and needles. I scrabble for purchase, but my hooves find nothing on the flat table. And I’m sliding straight towards Him. The Older One. He looks shocked, haggard. I need to stop! But I can’t, the papers, the sheet, and pieces... I can’t stop moving!
I slide right off the end of the table, flailing all my limbs for control, but I crash straight into Him anyway. Ha doesn’t stop me. He feels weaker than the other One, and soon I’m standing on top of him as well.
He stares listlessly up at me.
“Y-You shouldn’t be able to…”
Yeah, you thought I was weak. I know. I was hurt, and you fixed me. But you’re just going to hold me again. There’s dogs here, you’re the same as the Others, even if you seem better on the outside. You stuck me with needles! I’d tell you what you need to know if your kind had left my voice unhurt, but you took even that. And even more, my memories! So I do the next best thing: I raise one hoof and slam it into the ground next to his head, lowering my eye to his. If he questions how much strength I have in me, maybe he’ll see it in there.
He doesn’t move. I look up, sure he got my message, and see the door. Freedom might be just the other side. I have to try, at least. All I can see is the door as I launch myself at it. I’m not strong enough to knock something like it down, but I’m quick enough to open it as I scrabble over to it, if awkward. My legs are making it hard to move correctly. My neck burns, my wings strain. I don’t care! I can look after myself once I’m out. I grip the doorknob and jerk it aside, shoving at the door in my haste and tumbling through to the ground.
Silent. Rows of cages, kennels line the walls. In every one a surprised face, a muzzle pointing in my direction ,and beady, stupid eyes. against the grey walls. Recognition clicks in my mind, and terror rises. I flinch back. Then the barking starts.
They're everywhere! Hundreds of them! My legs lose their strength at the volume of their combined roaring, a solid assault on my body and mind. I’m prepared to fight for my freedom, but they’ll rip me to pieces in a breath! My eye is blurry as I shrink back, a whimper searing up my throat. Leave me alone! Please!
They don’t, they can’t. They’re raging at me. The tall Ones have an army here to kill me! My legs are shaking, my chest burning, tears wasting as they fall to the ground under me. I can’t see anything straight, my eye is trembling. Only one overwhelming urge drives me. Fly! RUN!
The hall has only two ways to go, into the maw of the thunder, or away. The door behind me goes nowhere, and so I turn down the hall, away from everything. The second their shouts are at my back, I am thrown forward, running, stumbling in the bright white light. It isn’t sunlight, it isn’t safe! Only the sky is safe for me, let me outside!
This door is bigger. I only see it when I run headfirst into the cold grey metal. Open! Open, please! I’m not thinking, I just hit it with my hooves, crying at it. Eventually something gives. The edge of my hoof catches on something, and a sharp pain lances up my leg into my chest. I scream.
The door opens, though, and I fall to the dirt just outside, clutching my fore hoof to my chest. Oh it hurts…But I’m outside! The sun, low in the sky, a glorious orange that burns my eyes, but I can’t stop staring at it. Through the pain, I smile. They can’t hurt me here…
My eyes clear then, and the full picture grates against my mind. Buildings. Hundreds of them, so tall they could block the sun if they wanted. I’m looking across a yard of bare ground, but beyond that, grey stone rises up a dozen lengths into the sky. Between the buildings rest stone paths, and on the paths roar armored Monsters that growl at everything they race past. To my left is a tree, to my right is a Monster.
I gasp and scramble back from it, but it doesn’t move. It’s resting alongside the wall, its eyes dull, its voice silent. On its top and one side I can see its shell is burnt black and cracked. Is it hurt too? Is it sleeping like I was? If it is, I need to get away before it wakes up!
I look around. They’re…they’re everywhere. All around me I hear them, behind corners, in windows, asking each other what noise they just heard.. Inside, I hear His voice raised among the dogs. What if he releases them? I don't think He would, He took me away from them to begin with, but if I made him angry... I have to go. There are other boxes and cages and crates in the yard. They reach all the way across to the street, and on the other side of that is a thin sliver of shadow between two gigantic buildings of stone and glass. It doesn’t take a second of my thought to decide where to go.
As the clamour of voices rises behind me, I scurry towards the shadows, away from the dogs and towards the safety of solitude.