I balance on the I-girders sticking from the Empire State Building, enjoying the view like only the sophistica can. My eagle-gene eyes study the broken statue far away on Ellis Island and the closer rows of concrete skeletons that the old folks call Manhattan. Each kitchen fire in Central Park burns with a unique temperature that triggers its own sunrise in my infrared vision. Even the helicopters coming for us, two minutes out of firing range, have beautiful silhouettes.
I resent the choppers for capturing my attention, but I watch them nonetheless. They are the one danger left to us.
My newling’s gaze follows them too. I touch her shoulder, thinking that the view has nothing on the beauty of her strength, peace, and equilibrium. My virulent DNA is making her feverish as it shapes the new her. I’ve seen her shake, seen her shed fat and muscle tissue through the enhanced membranes that now make up her skin. A few ounces of my blood injected into her arm two days ago, and already her genetic self is changed, her wings nearly grown.
Nearly. And we’re quite a way up.
“Joshiba, they’ll try to kill us,” she says. Caloha, her name was, and she clings to names like she still clings to her knives. They gleam in her hands as if she’s yearning to take on the human machines.
“I know. That doesn’t make them our enemies.”
“They see us as enemies. Same difference.”
“It’s a huge difference. Humans aren’t necessarily evil. They just have a lot to learn, and little genetic room for learning. Evolution has hardwired fear into their brains. Fear of the unknown. Fear of us. That’s the reason they keep sending missiles and bombs after us, even though it destroys the city they worked so hard to build.”
“I was human two days ago. Don’t think you know humans better than I do.”
And she sure was human. The fiercest, meanest street rat of them all, surviving alone without the need of any street gang protection. I admit to taking Caloha under my wings for that very reason. If I can turn her into one of the peaceful, none of the other sophistica can argue for violence again. I’m convinced we have it in our DNA to be peaceful, just like fears are hardwired into humans. Fear of hunger, monsters, ambush, and disease, all those things are irrelevant to Caloha now. Under my guidance she’ll outgrow her combative past, just like I did.
“We don’t have to fight them,” I say. “We’ll live for millennia. Whenever the helicopters come, we just fly away and let them destroy the city.”
“We can fight them now and win.”
“Humanity blames us for the destruction of their world because they fail to see the paradise we created. We’ve evolved beyond war. We’re as self-sustaining as plants, as mobile as birds, as sturdy as elephants. How can we be harmed by their war?”
It’s what I tell the other sophisticas, and they’ve listened to me so far. We’ve run from our human attackers while the city suffered around us, knowing we’ll outlive them whether they ruin the world in their hunt for us or not.
“When are those choppers going to shoot?” she asks.
“Ten seconds,” I admit.
She flexes her unfinished wings. “Fly or fall. Like all the peaceful.”
I smile. She already embodies the ideas of adaptation and evolution, even if there’s a ring to her voice I don’t understand. Perhaps the fear of falling is still encoded in her neurons. She won’t be able to soar or do acrobatic maneuvers for another day, but I’m confident her wings will parachute her safely to the street. Down there we’ll go to ground and escape in the crumbling concrete maze.
“Let’s go,” I say, and we jump, hand in hand.
Above us three missiles slam into the I-girders, underlining the fact that humans have a lot to learn.
I spread my wings wider to swerve away from the pressure wave and falling debris, but she’s too close. With all the speed and grace of a true sophistica she wraps her legs around my midriff, plunges her knives through my wing membranes, and shred them from chest to tip.
“They’re our enemies,” she whispers in my ear. Her tone reminds me of the way she said, ‘Like all the peaceful’. A deep part of my long-forgotten humanity recognizes it as sarcasm.
“If we don’t fight them now, we’ll never survive. It’s evolution’s way, and no old-time sophistica is going to hold me back. Me or the others.”
She lets go of my body and unfolds her wings to break her own fall. I scream as I plunge, no longer in control, but not quite dead either. I wrap myself into a spin that allows my shredded wings to cover the largest possible area and steer towards a patch of dirt torn from the concrete.
I break every bone in my body in the fall, and yet I’ll live. Sophisticas are tough. Perhaps too tough.
In a day or two when my bones are healed, I’ll have to push my inner peace aside and hunt her down. If she manages to gather other sophisticas around her, this city won’t be the only battleground. It’ll be a long hunt, a destructive chase with no certain outcome, except for one: I’ll never be able to convince the other sophisticas that we’re incapable of violence.
Only then will we see if we truly created a paradise, or if the apocalypse is real.
Jakob Drud lives in Denmark where he writes ad copy for a living and science fiction and fantasy for fun. He’s writing in English because of all the great genre writers and readers he’s met online.