I lifted the fragile, warm body in my hand. Patience tried to bite me through my glove, but I held her tight and gently slid the hypodermic needle into just the right place. “Sorry, girl,” I said gently. “I know you don’t want to do this again, but this time we’re going to make sure you can fly. Really fly.”
Patience stopped struggling and lay still. I set her down on the steel operating table and watched for a moment to make sure her breathing was still good. She was a marvel of genetic engineering, white fur perfectly matched to the pair of snowy wings that sprouted from her tiny shoulders. I’d decided to keep the mouse’s tail, but line it with a fan of white feathers. She’d come out pretty, but something had been wrong. Her wings weren’t strong enough to do any more than flutter to the ground.
I wanted her to be able to soar.
Carefully, I snipped into the skin beneath on the underside of her wings and pulled it away. There were the chest muscles that I had been building for the last few weeks by injections of steroids and other strengthening compounds. The muscles were there, but not all the fibers had been attached to the wings. That’s why the surgery was necessary. I delicately began to stitch the new chest muscles to the wing muscles. Then I closed the skin up again. My surgeons stitches were so tiny they were invisible even on the thin mouse pelt. I looked Patience over, seeking for some other thing I could do to help her fly. Those ears were probably in her way, so I trimmed them smaller, leaving a tiny ridge of bloody edge that I seared off with my heat iron. There, maybe that would be enough. No, that tail was too long and heavy. It had to be shortened.
At last the surgery was finished. I wrapped Patience up in a restraining binding so she wouldn’t hurt herself while she healed, then placed her back in her cage.
Over the next few weeks I carefully hand-fed her every meal. Her tiny pink eyes were blank, I couldn’t see if there was any pain. We waited together, and every day I promised she would soon find out what it was like to fly.
Then one morning when I took off the wrappings, everything had healed. I knew Patience would need time to learn to use her wings, but now we could begin. I took her outside the lab, into the building, and walked to the atrium with its trees and glass-covered roof. There was no one there, only Patience and me.
I opened my hand only a little ways from the tile floor and waited to see what Patience would do. She sat there, trembling, for a moment. Then she spread her wings and hopped out of my hand.
The bird instincts I had programmed into her DNA took over, and she soared across the room, spiraling higher and higher. I cheered for her, wheeling around the skylight, but then she suddenly crumpled in mid-air, as if she’d been hit. Her body tumbled down and I ran to catch her, my lab coat fluttering. Blood coated my hands as I caught her shattered form, the wings only half on, the ribs snapped and protruding through her thin skin. I dropped to my knees and wept like a child as she died in my hands.