Sunday, September 8, 2013

Copper Gulls

This was written in response to a prompt for a self-imposed challenge.  The prompt: dead fish and an ornithologist. go!

Keturah turned to her colleagues in disgust, tossing the dead fish at their collected feet. "This is why the birds aren’t eating. You’re feeding them dead fish! What kind of researchers are you?"

"If I may say, Dr. Leeds, with all due respect, they weren’t dead when we gave them to the birds."

Keturah’s brassy eyebrows climbed. "Pardon?"

"I know we seem incompetent, not calling you sooner when we realized we had a problem, but we do know enough to feed this group live fish. We know they don’t eat anything else."

Properly chastised, but too proud to show it, Keturah turned from her colleagues and studied the fish strewn around the outdoor aviary. She knew there had to be something going on. It was more like these birds to overeat when given the opportunity, not peck at their food. They hyper-smart things were--


Keturah stepped forward, adjusting her eye-lenses to get a closer view of the fish strewn all over the aviary floor. "Oh."

"What is it, Dr. Leeds?"

"Oh, you poor smart-stupid bastards. We poor smart-stupid bastards." Squatting, she balanced on her toes and adjusted her eye-lenses further. "Your birds have been playing with their food."

"What?" The other researchers rushed forward, the whir of lens adjustments preceding them.

Keturah made a sweeping gesture. "Check any of the fish the birds have tossed. They’ve all been dissected."

Anxious murmurs filled the air around them but, Keturah noted, not bird calls. She looked up. There was nothing to see, but she was sure they were being watched. Around her, the anxiety had turned to wonder and excitement. "She’s right." "Look at that..." " precise!"

Sighing, Keturah readjusted her lenses before she stood, lest she make herself dizzy at the wild shift in depth perception.

"But...what does that have to do with them not eating?" Following her lead, the head researcher had stood as well.

"Isn’t it obvious?" Keturah shook her head when it was clear that it wasn’t. "You toss them some fish for dinner. Their newfound super-curiosity gets the better of them and they dissect it, wanting to know more. The fish dies on the table, so to speak, so now they’ve got dead fish. But despite all of your experiments with cybernetics and selective behavior augmentation you haven’t actually changed what they are, which are birds that won’t eat dead fish. Even when they’re starving to death."

The researchers shared worried looks between them. Keturah waited for the inevitable, eyes turned again towards the branches overhead. She wondered if any of the curious birds had tried cutting through the wire mesh yet.

"So what now?" the head researcher asked.

"Kill them." At their gasp, she threw up her hands and said, "Or put them down. Whatever verbage helps you sleep better. Look, the truth is that they’re already dead birds and that you’ve already killed them."

"We were trying to make them better! And make us better in the process."

Shrugging, she slowly shook her head. "Maybe some things are fine the way they are, doctor." She glanced down at the copper exoskeleton on her hands, the color lost behind the scrolling information her lenses sent her of their current state of composition, wear and tear, and other miscellany she had long ago learned to ignore. After all, it had been a decade since most anyone had seen the world in anything other than shades of black, white and gray.

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