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They had forever told him he was not one of them, that he was a genetic error. A disgrace to the Project. Yet they had let him live, perhaps hoping he would grow out of it. He was young, yes, he was—still a child—but even in his short life he could remember nothing but the Project.
There were so many like him in the Building. Some had even been his friends. They were no different from he, yet they all received treats and he did not. Sometimes they were even allowed to walk without their chains. But most often they just received food—better food, cheese and grapes and strange, melting brown squares that smelled wonderful. Yet he was never allowed these. Sometimes he got a crumb or two of cheese, and sometimes a fallen grape, but the directors never gave him any.
One day he had heard the directors talking. “Do you think it’s wise to give them chocolate?” the younger of the two had asked.
“It can’t hurt,” the senior replied, a lisp slowing the words. “They seem to like it.” And for days after he had worried of what a chocolate was, and what it might entail. But they did nothing unusual, and the other ones who were no different got their cheese and grapes and little brown squares.
There must have been something he had done long ago to make them so angry with him. But he couldn’t remember what he had done, and no one would tell him.
Then came the worst, even more terrible than not having grapes: He was taken from the others and locked away in another cage, this one dark and empty and frightening. He huddled in the corner while they did their tests, and tried to ask why he was alone. They never answered, not the junior director with the starched white coat, not the senior director with the funny speech, not the various men who ran the experiments. It was as if he wasn’t even there.
Then they attached an orange triangle to the door of the cage. He held it in his hands and tried to understand the markings. He asked the most amiable director, who answered, “Biohazard. It says biohazard.”
He wondered if a biohazard was similar to a chocolate. If so, it must be bad.
They grew steadily crueler, even the benevolent one. They called him things—mutant, terror, fool, mistake. The words landed on him like blows. He carried the words on his shoulders like a yolk, throughout the tests and pain and loneliness.
Then, one day, with no warning, the senior director opened the door to the cage and peered in. “Come out.”
He went out and stood before the director, who held a clipboard and said, “Do what you were created for.”
He stared at the director. Never before had he been told that. He had dreamed of it, and now that it was the time, he could hardly swallow.
“Do it,” the senior director ordered again, clutching the clipboard so tightly the fingers holding it turned white at the knuckle.
He looked again at the director, who nodded. He nodded back.
So he spread his wings and flew.