They were packed into a tin tray like smoked oysters, on their sides, wings folded tight against bodies, their human heads all facing the same direction. The tray was placed inside an aerie high in the sierra. Ornithologists, anthropologists, an assortment of other scientists and of course the military were all eager to see what would happen when the eagle returned to her nest. Would she reject and expel the hybrids? Would she eat them? Or would she feed and raise them as her own? Cameras, strategically placed around the aerie as well as a small squadron of drones would provide a bird’s eye view of the event. Curious viewers around the planet could watch live on t.v. or online. All the major networks were covering. Once the experiment had leaked to the press, concealing it was no longer possible; lead by the Audubon Society, there was an immediate and clamorous public demand for transparency and access. Petitions were circulated, and an unprecedented volume of letters were written to congress, the press, and the president. Some, especially the Catholics and Evangelicals, demanded the immediate termination of the experiment. They wanted the hybrids put up for adoption. The Jewish voices were not so unified: some reacted with horror, the Holocaust still fresh in their memories; others were wary but scientifically curious. Most Muslims saw the work of Shaitaan in the experiment and vehemently condemned it. To Hindus, a new and exotic vessel of reincarnation was in development, while Buddhists simply breathed and watched with compassionate detachment. The reactions of other, lesser known religions were not registered. The subjects themselves, the hybrids, had not yet learned to talk, so their feelings were impossible to interpret. Only one of the twelve hybrids had not survived; the moment it opened its eyes, it suffered what an autopsy later revealed was a myocardial infarction. It seemed, some opined, that the creature knew instantly by looking at its companions that it too was a hideous aberration and so died in shock, perhaps even willed its own heart to stop beating. There was no way to know. Its death, like the experiment itself, was subject to interpretation.
Across the canyon, the eagle was spotted, soaring with all the grace and majesty for which she is known. As she approached the aerie, she circled a few times like a passenger jet awaiting a runway. From nearby mobile labs, the Team’s eyes were trained on monitors and PDAs, anxiously awaiting the moment when the eagle would encounter the hybrids in her nest. Word spread around the planet the moment was about to arrive. People stopped what they were doing and tuned in to watch. T.V screens in Times Square all switched to the aerie as traffic came to a standstill, cab fares and Uber and Lyft passengers leapt from vehicles to watch. Some said it was like 9/11.
The eagle could see a foreign object inside her aerie. The reflection of the tin blinded her to its contents, but she detected movement in the nest. The tiny heads of the hybrids, their mouths agape, terrified, and hungry, were craning to see over the rim of the tin. It was too high. The Team had not wanted them to escape. As she spiraled closer to the aerie, the eagle flapped her wings several times and cried out, as if to signal to the invaders that she was approaching. The hybrids became more frantic inside the tin and began to wriggle free from the packaging. Viewers around the planet were transfixed. The Team was worried. Gradually, then almost all at once, the little part human part eagle hybrids scrambled out of the tin and into the basin of the aerie. When the eagle saw all the activity in her nest, she became alarmed and flew directly to it. She alighted on the edge of the aerie, eyes ablaze and wings aflutter. Bystanders from Times Square to Red Square stood frozen in anticipation. The eagle herself appeared perplexed, as if she were in the wrong place — or perhaps the fact that she had a nest full of eaglets, or something like eaglets, had slipped her mind. She – and the Team and the world –watched with bated breaths. Eleven little feathered souls were at stake. Would she spare them and care for them or would they die? They were at the mercy of the eagle.
Tim Hanson lives in Santa Monica, CA and works as a substitute school teacher. His short story ‘Broken Bottles’ appeared in great weather for MEDIA’s 2014 anthology I Let Go of the Stars in My Hand.