"Abby! Abby, where are you?"
The words rang out across the compound, and my ear twitched a fraction to catch them. Judging by the pitch, the tone…Dr. Richards, and he wished to tell me something important. Not that I could be bothered by that at present – I was crouched on all fours, knee deep in the grass that had taken over the northern section of the grounds. They kept it long at my request, so that I had a more suitable environment to exercise in.
Only a few yards away – seven feet, three inches, my ears were quick to clarify – something rustled in the grass. What would it be this time? A squirrel, maybe, though it was more likely to be a crow. Crows seemed to like this place nearly as much as I did.
Another shudder of the grass. My prey was getting restless. The eyes – no, myeyes; they were a part of me and belonged to me, I had to continually remind myself – narrowed, and my fingers clenched slightly on the soggy ground. I shifted slightly, bringing my weight to bear on the muscles of my arms, and then –
"Abeni! There you are!"
At the sudden shout, the small form ahead of me burst from its cover – a crow after all – flapping crazily away from the noise. All it took was the sound of wings straining against air, and I was off, taking a wild leap across the ground that brought me down where the animal had just been. All that was left was to charge after it, hands and feet smacking dully against the earth as I ran. Just as it seemed I couldn't possibly overtake the bird, I lunged, soaring off the ground and almost appearing to fly myself.
"You aren't supposed to do this without supervision!" The protest came from below and behind, but I was unable to acknowledge it. I was easily seven or eight feet in the air, still propelled higher by my leap and gaining on my prey rapidly. Already it was just out of arm's reach, still struggling to gain height and get away. I was not in the mood to lose this race, though. Stretching out an arm, I flexed the muscles in my hand to release my claws, and there was the sudden sensation of pressure as I hit my target and knocked it out of the air. Now we were falling, and I braced for impact.
That was all it took to botch my landing attempt.
The simple act of conscious preparation had dragged me out of the realm of instinct, and I was left to attempt to touch down again without quite knowing how. To be honest, all I knew was that I was falling, and that the impact was not going to be enjoyable.
I slammed into the ground with a bone-shaking thump, and my knees buckled beneath me. I swung my arms out as I tipped forward, remembering at the last moment not to lock my elbows; a previous experience had introduced me to the unpleasant sensation of joints popping out of their sockets.
My hands made contact with a sickening splurch, and I realized that I'd put full weight on my bird – a quick look down suggested that it was quite beyond salvaging, and not worth any more attention. I flicked most of the gore off into the grass, wiping the remainder on my pants in a stunning smear; the red stood out alarmingly against the plain gray.
Dr. Richards, upset at being ignored for so long, stepped forward angrily. "You see what I mean. This…hunting thing you do is dangerous. What if you'd fallen on your head?"
"It is most probable that my neck would have snapped. I did not fall on my head, however, and so your question is irrelevant. This 'hunting thing I do' is called instinct, and I was testing a theory, doctor."
Obviously puzzled by this, the man paused a moment before taking the bait. "And what theory might that be?"
"My hypothesis is that if I do not constantly plan and calculate my actions, then my body will respond with increased capability and fluidity. I have determined that I cannot continually give individual orders to individual muscles, but should rather let them move as one. It is much more difficult than I had predicted, but my premise was correct."
"I see you've been making some progress, though." When faced with this sort of logic, Richards was much less inclined to throw fits.
"There has been marginal advancement in my capabilities."
"I can see that. Your jumps still need a little work, particularly the landing – but enough of that. We need you in the lab."
He turned and started away, and I followed an instant later. The first step was, as always, jerky and uncoordinated as I tried to micromanage every aspect of the movement, but eventually my stride became smoother, almost natural.
"I still need to improve, doctor, but as you can see, my jump was not a complete failure."
"Oh? How do you figure?" He was obviously not very interested in hearing my thoughts, but I chose to answer his question regardless. I felt satisfaction in my progress, after all, and as it turned out, I had improved in one area: my leap had taken me higher than I had ever reached before, from roughly eight feet to more than eleven.
"At least I can claim that my jump clearance is improving."