The next day was much the same as the days on the boat, except we were in a tunnel with lights flicking on as we approached and off behind us as went deeper into it. I was appreciating the fact that I’m not claustrophobic when the tunnel ended rather abruptly. It turned sharply left and; we were confronted by a pair of doors that could only have been to an elevator. Down or up? We were soon to find out.
Margaret had been talkative when we started out, but grew more and more silent as we walked. I asked twice if there was a problem she needed to discuss. Both times she just shook her head and stared at her feet.
I truly hadn’t expected to grow to care for her, and for some time thought I’d managed to forego the emotional entanglement, but her silence lifted a sense of unease into my chest that I knew was caused by what I’d tried to avoid. Did I love her? I wasn’t certain, but it was quite possible I’d at least begun to by then.
I raised both hands and spread them in front of me. “What do you think we should do now?”
“I don’t know if I can go on.” Her voice was small, lost as if the vibrant life I’d grown to expect had been squeezed into a tiny painful ball of doubt.
“Why?” I asked apprehensively.
“Read the sign.” She pointed an unsteady finger at a small brass plate mounted on the elevator frame’s right side above a single button that read ‘open’ in more languages then I knew did or could exist.
I walked closer and read, “Humans from the 21stcentury must turn back.”
Slowly, I looked over my shoulder. “What the hell is this about?”
“What I’ve been afraid to tell you.”
“Why you’ve been so quiet?”
She nodded and I swore I saw tears rimming her eyes. “I’m not what you think I am.”
“And what do you think I think you are?”
She sobbed and dragged in an obviously painful breath. “Normal human.”
“You sure look, smell, and feel normal.” I went to stand before her, with a strong desire to take her in my arms, but I resisted when I witnessed her eyes changing. The large blue centers shrank as a ring of red with an outer ring of gold crowded the blue as if concentrating it, or imprisoning it.
She took several large steps back. her head blurred like it was vibrating. Her mouth opened in a silent scream as she slowly dropped to the floor now writhing and shifting, becoming something quite obviously not human.
In what seemed like an hour, but was not much more than a minute, I stood facing a creature both terrifying and beautiful. Her body was that of a crimson female lion, but with a human head and massive wings. She had the claws of the creature she’d become, but the face was still enough Margaret that I knew I was not imagining anything. She spread her wings, glorious feathers fanning patiently. Then she stood on her hind legs and towered over me.
“I am not human as you are.” She sounded human but also something vastly more powerful and deadly if necessary.
My mind ran though what I’d read years back about the early 21stcentury and again landed on med-tech altering DNA to create invincible warriors. And right then I stood before their accomplishment.