She gazed up at the sky, face relaxed and a small smile playing at her lips. Her chocolate hued hair covered part of her face but she made no move to wave it away. The eagles, the focus of her attention, where circling each other slowly, powerful and unafraid. Oh how she longed to be with them. Lines of longing were etched across her face and one small shining tear slid down her cheek before she had a chance to stop it. She brushed it away, furious with the momentary betrayal. Why couldn’t she be free? These small moments by herself were the only piece of freedom she ever got to glimpse and they were becoming fewer and fewer until she knew they would eventually stop altogether.
She soon returned her gaze to the thick art pad that rested gently across her knees, her brow furrowed in concentration. Although she had only drawn one line it was not from lack of trying. There were just too many things around her begging for her attention. She did not know where to start and the only thing to mark her page was the single line. That was how she felt right now. I single line on one a big canvas. A sharp buzzing sound caused her head to smack against the tree that had supported her weight since she were a small child. A small red light blinked in time with the buzzing from the watch on her arm and she let out a muffled groan. She had ten minutes to get home and her older sister Katya could only cover for her for so long. Besides Katya really was a terrible liar and they could not rely on their father’s absent mindedness forever. She smiled fondly at the thought of her sister. She used to be jealous of her and the way everyone always thought Katya was the perfect replica of their mother. But as she grew older she learned to accept herself for who she was. When her brother Khan had been alive he would tell her she had a wild streak ten miles long and it only grew longer as she got older. But he wasn’t here and she needed to get home. So she ran.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
She had barely beat her father home but thankfully had just enough time to wash up to avoid any suspicion. Now they sat around the table sipping on the warm soup Katya had made from scratch. Karu allowed the soup to warm her insides and sat back and watched her father and sister talk animatedly over whatever new break through he had made at the lab.
She hadn’t seen him this excited since he had discovered a way for babies in the womb to be genetically turned into the Tanu. There had been a press conference and celebrations. As if hearing her thoughts, she heard those two words spoken aloud by her father, jarring her from her memory.
“What about a press conference?” Karu asked, interrupting their conversation.
“I was just telling your sister that I am making a press conference tonight and that both of you will be attending.” Karu flinched slightly at the end of his sentence knowing it was directed at her and she still wasn’t forgiven. It had happened right after Khan was murdered. He had fought against their father’s work and for the people ‘s right to remain human. The Tanu were half human and half animal hybrids. Genetically engineered to take all the humans strengths and combine them with all the strengths of a matched animal. He had been ripped apart by a group of Tanu that knew about his attempts at rebellion. Karu and Katya had been forced to hide in the shadows and watch their brother get torn about. She could still hear his screams at night in her nightmares. They had hid because they promised their brother they would and though they had experienced it together they had not spoken of it since. Karu had tried to go to her father’s press conference the next day but could not attend something that celebrated the creation of the very things that had taken her brother from her. Her father had obviously still not forgiven her.
“Tonight? That’s kind of short notice don’t you think?” She noticed Katya frantically shaking her head, blonde curls whipping about her face, but it was too late, the question already asked.
“It makes no difference. What matters is that you both will be there.” He got up from the table and walked out of the room, signaling the end of the conversation. Karu and Katya were left as usual to clean up the mess from dinner. They worked swiftly and quietly, each buried deep into herself with thoughts they did not wish to share with the other. Within what seemed like minutes their father entered the now pristine kitchen and ushered them out the side door.
They trailed behind him like little goslings as he weaved his way around the people, who like them, were making their way towards the center of the town. The air crackled around with nervous energy and those that dared to speak did so hushed and fearful tones. Karu’s heart beat erratically and the lump of dread in her throat made it impossible to swallow. Somehow she sensed that whatever announcement her father made tonight would change her life forever. There was a large gathering by the town square. About half were supporters and the other half held signs that said things like: “Proud to be human,” and “Freedom for the people” as well as one crudely painted one that said “Die Tanu Die.”
Their father stepped up to the podium guided by the same guards who now seemed to follow him almost everywhere. The minute he cleared his throat and opened his mouth their was absolute silence. Not even a cricket dared to chirp on this night.
No one would ever make the mistake of describing Peter Kahzdan as being small or undistinguished, for he always carried himself with an air pride and dignity. He hadn’t always been so somber though. When Katya and Karu’s mother was alive he had smiled and had made sure to always have the weekends off to spend with his family. Now he came home only to eat what they prepared for him and maybe catch a few winks of sleep. Why should he come home when their family didn’t exist anymore.
“I would like to thank you all for coming and supporting me and my team.” His voice boomed across the square and and a steady mix of cheers and boos followed. Katya and Karu shared a fearful look, each knowing how rowdy crowds could become. Multiple militia men stood at attention forming a ring around the edges of the crowd, the stage, and podium where their father resided. He swallowed and a thin sheen of sweat glistened across his forehead. For a moment Karu thought her father was afraid. But what was he afraid of? Many people admired him and he made more than five times the average annual salary. He was protected at all times so what did he have to be afraid of? He looked around at the crowd of people and when he caught Karu’s eye he smiled sadly. The look in his eyes seemed to ask for her forgiveness.
“As you know research has been done to discover a way to permanently combine humanity and animal strengths to make one superior race. That is now possible. We have discovered a way to make fully formed humans into the Tanu. Starting tonight mandatory procedures will be enforced and all healthy humans will experience the wonders of being superior. Myself included. In fact my daughters and I will be the first ones to undergo the procedures.” Karu’s heart stopped completely and her blood turned to ice in her veins. She reached out for Katya’s hand and clasped it tightly. The crowd surged forward some cheering and happy but a great majority of the people were angry and dark. Katya screamed as a hand reached out and yanked hard at her hair. Three of their father’s guards pushed them forward forcing their way through the roiling mass. They were rushed towards the hospital building so fast that Karu tripped twice skinning her knee. Once safely inside the young women clung to each other, hearts beating in terrified tandem.
“Why would he force us to do this? He didn’t even ask us.” Karu practically spat out the words.
“He and I talked about it at dinner. He doesn’t have a choice.” Katya pushed a curl away from her face and wiped away a tear. “The council has been questioning his loyalty after Khan was killed. Can you blame them? Khan was the leader of the biggest rebellion in either of our life times. Father needed to find away for them to trust him, trust us. This was the only way. So he’s saving our lives by sacrificing our humanity.” The last part was said with more venom than Karu had aver heard come from her sister’s mouth. She hadn’t even thought her capable of it.
“Katya I had no idea.” The shame she felt at not realizing what her father had been going through almost knocked her over and she had to brace herself against a wall.
“I know, that was the whole point. You were my little sister. When Khan died I was now the oldest. And when mother died it was my responsibility of the household. But I took that on because I wanted you to not worry about anything. I know that you used to feel less than and that you thought I was perfect but in truth I was jealous of you and your free spirit. I was jealous of the way you saw the world and weren’t afraid of anything. I never wanted you to lose that. Promise me that you will never.” The tears in Karu’s eyes overflowed but even though her vision was blurred she finally saw her sister, truly saw her sister for probably the first time in her life. Her sister was not the weak one, or the one that needed protecting. She was strongest of them all.
“Katya we will get through this. We have gotten through so much worse and we survived. We can survive this.” A door burst open and their father walked and wrapped his arms around him; the first hug he had given since their mother’s funeral. His shoulders shook and it took a while for Karu to realize that he was crying. Something else he hadn’t done since his wife’s death.
For the longest time Karu had looked at her father as the hateful villain cold hearted and cruel, but now she knew different. “This will be hard for all of us and I can’t protect you guys. I tried to keep you out of my work but they made that impossible. I love you girls never forget that. Everything will change after this but we will still be a family.”
Another side door opened again and this time a rush of people burst in. Time slowed as doctors and soldier broke them apart leading each in their own direction. Karu was placed on a gurney and a needle of anesthesia was placed in her arm. Thoughts whirled around in her head and all she could think about was her family. Before she knew it everything went to darkness.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
When Karu was awake enough to understand her surroundings she found one of her father’s colleagues sitting on the bed next to her.
“Good you’re awake. You had us worried there for a moment, but I want you to know your surgery was a success. You should feel so proud of this accomplishment. Your father would be so proud.” Karu stared at him blankly and then froze as she realized he was speaking in the past tense.
“What do you mean was?” The man’s eyes grew sad the only answer she needed. She did not cry, she felt too numb for that.
“I’m so sorry for your loss, We knew that not everyone would make the transition.” He didn’t say anything after that, giving her time to process his words.
Do you want to know your match?” He asked at last, grasping at anything to fill the awful silence. He did not wait for an answer but instead barreled on as if unsure of how to comfort her. “Your father chose it. It’s an eagle. You should be able to see clearer and farther than any human and you’ll will be able to fly. You should have wings.”
She didn’t care about that. Not anymore. Not now when it had come at the cost of her father’s life. “When did he die?” His answer knocked the breath out of her lungs.
“Six months ago. We had to keep you under to make sure that everything was maturing properly. Don’t worry your vitals were monitored every second of every day”. Her father had died six months ago and she hadn’t felt a thing. That couldn’t be right. He was lying playing some cruel joke.
Katya came to mind and Karu tore the iv drip out of her arm and rose from the bed.
“That would be most unwise. You will be very weak.” He tried to push her gently down but she shoved him away. She was not weak. The Tanu were never weak. If they were they would be inferior. The man fell against a dresser with a hard smack and lay still. She did not check for a pulse she did not think too. The only thought she could manage was getting to Katya.
After hiding and losing her way she finally found her. Her cold body was laid out in the morgue, her face even more beautiful in death. Karu felt her heart rip out and join her sister in death and she knew she would never feel again. The hospital smell made made her sick and she knew she needed to get out. There was nothing left for her any more and so she ran. Past the panicked shouts and angry soldiers. Past the people and Tanu on the streets. She ran past her house that had sheltered her all her life and she ran past her mother and brother’s graves, where her father and sister would soon join them.
She ran to her clearing where she had always felt safe. This time she ignored the feel of the grass and the warmth of the sun. She ignored the big open sky and the sound of the wind. She ran to the cliff where the eagles flew free and this time when they called to her she understood them. Karu stood at the edge of the cliff, her toes hanging over. There was nothing but ocean and sky for miles but she was not afraid. She felt nothing as she thought of her dead family. She was not even upset about becoming the thing she had hated for so long. She could not be. Not when her father had chosen the animal to grant her freedom. Not when she realized how much her sister had loved and protected her. She did not know if she would fall or fly but she did not care. Karu closed her eyes, pictured her family and she stepped off the edge.