As far as everyone is aware, Doves are not, and never have been, birds of prey. They have never borne the mantle of predators, never inspired any sort of dread or fear. Instead, within each religion, mythology, or symbolism they graced, one resounding truth remained—doves were messengers of love, peace and devotion. They carried no trace of martial spirit, no penchant for war or conquest, and they certainly didn’t win battles.
So, in the not so distant future, where people fused their DNA with that of an animal's in order to make life a little easier to conquer, it seemed almost insulting that Jed's parents landed on mixing him with a dove. To the uninitiated, this may not seem like a big deal; Those birds had pretty wings and great eyesight, after all. And, if that was the case, and all Jed was given were some interesting aesthetics and great eyes, there would be no issue. But...
Unfortunately, Jed’s parents had a different agenda. A cold, calculated one, at that.
Years ago, Jed’s mother and father were both geneticists employed by the outer city government. The two of them specialized in perfecting the DNA splicing ritual that countless citizens relied on, giving them both world renown respect and recognition. Initially, everything was great! They revered their titles, celebrating the opportunity to create a safer method for those who wanted to enhance themselves. But then, they began thinking. And thinking led to questioning the very foundations of these new societal norms.
Why did people have to change just to fit in? Why was everything being tailored to people who were genetically modified? How was that fair for the rest of us?
No one seemed to have a good enough answer for them.
With their newfound contempt for the facility writing their checks, Jed’s parents hatched a plan. A really, really, terribly ill-conceived plan:
To truly illustrate their disillusionment, they chose not to attend a protest or start a blog, but instead physically demonstrate on a live model--their son--the dangerous path the world was heading on. To do so, they fashioned his genetic makeup in a way that would leave him incapable of navigating through life without extensive assistance.
Well, what did they do? Did they make him some strange, half-man, half-bird, hybrid?
Jed bore the miraculous gift of fluffy, white wings with delicate feathers spanning twelve feet. His eyesight was precise and piercing, able to travel far without losing clarity. Though, beneath all the good and the beautiful, lay the fragile truth: his bones were hollowed out, like that of a small bird’s and, with each step, Jed had to remain acutely aware of what he was doing in order to protect his delicate frame.
Much to his disadvantage, and unlike the doves he was made from, Jed stood tall. At 6’4”, he was a monument of disordinance in a world designed for the conventionally unconventional. His wings were heavy, forcing his lanky skeleton to bear the burden of their grandeur, making his balancing act that much more difficult. To fix this, Jed equipped a harness to hold them in place, leveling out his lopsided weight distribution (barely).
That seems... counter-productive.
According to Jed's parents, this design would serve as a true test of modern society’s patience and compassion. If a world tailored to the strong and the fast could take care of him, then maybe, just maybe, society still had a chance to heal.
One question still remained, though: how exactly would they show his bones off? Would they record themselves helping Jed navigate the world, showicasing the struggles everything from modern architecture to modern medicine were sure to bestow upon him?
Regrettably, Jed's parents suffered from an incurable disease of their own known all too simply as ‘performative activism.’ When the deed was done, and Jed’s future was set in stone, they swiftly moved on to the next phase of their grand protest: give him away. It was, after all, according to them, the most effective way of driving their point home--to consign Jed to the desolate fringes of the outer city and see what happens. See how these people, notorious for violence, treated a completely defenseless individual, set up for failure from day one. It served as the perfect place for their social experiment to unravel.
So, Jed lived in the foster system until he grew out of it, drifting from household to household as he tried to find his way in the world--and, surprisingly, he managed through those eighteen years with only a few broken bones and a dozen fractures.
Much to the chagrin of his birth parents, though, his foray into adulthood didn’t see him don the mantle of freedom fighter, but instead a depressed call center worker. His life progressed without the glory of fanfare, and instead with a series of seemingly never ending, mundane days.
Jed just couldn’t take it anymore. Within him, a spark for change flicked on, and then began burning, relentlessly. He wanted to change! And he wanted to change now!
In five years, he told himself, I’m going to get out of this. I’m going to get a better job, I’m going to become successful, I’m going to figure out a way to get into the inner city, and, maybe, I’m going to finally get a girlfriend! He thinks for a moment, needing a push. Something to encourage him to keep going. Or… or I’m going to kill myself. A grim alternative, but just what he needed. He hated his routine, and he hated being lonely--what he needed in his life was a hard restart, and for someone to finally pick him over anyone else. He wanted to be special!
Yet, two years had passed since Jed took that pledge, and his life was more or less exactly the same. He’d tried, many times, to fast track his five-year-plan, but it seemed like progress avoided him. Fervently. No matter how many extra shifts he'd pick up to make some auxiliary cash, or how many new places he applied to, nothing. Getting a girlfriend didn’t even seem like a viable option anymore with him working strictly night shifts, 40 hours a week.
To top it all off, part four of his five-year-plan was practically unattainable: inner city citizenship. Applying was an option, but getting accepted without celebrity status, a prestigious occupation, or an incredible IQ bordered on impossible, and Jed didn’t have a single one of those trump cards up his sleeve.
Thankfully, the government seemed to grasp this conundrum faced by both Jed and the rest of the population, and devised a solution that promised the very keys he needed to unlock his dream life—a substantial monetary prize, a better career, adoring fans, and an immediate green light to ascend to the inner city. The solution required gathering up the most audacious and determined contenders from each and every corner of the animal kingdom and pitting them against one another in a contest that tested both their raw skills and ability to maximize their animalistic, genetic enhancements.
So, what exactly is it?
The two cities decided to create a colossal boxing bracket, housed in a literal colosseum in the middle of the outer city. It was enormous, looming over the more modest, public housing units, and cast a daunting shadow on those who dared to approach. Inside, thousands of seats awaited eager spectators, curious to witness the bracket unfold and bear witness to the special event the final five fighters would partake in. Each year, the bracket's challenge escalated, but with that escalation came a steep increase in reward money. This coming bracket, it was five million dollars, and an immediate citizenship.
Upon hearing that last part, Jed made a resolute decision--I’m in.
He didn’t care if he was literally built for pacifism, this bracket was the catalyst for the change he so desperately wanted. So, he’d fight. And he’d fight with everything he’s got. The next bracket was scheduled to take place in…
Jed’s exclamation slipped out, his gaze fixated on the poster in front of him, a surge of anxious anticipation coursing through him--he read it over and over, hyper-focusing on the picture of the inner city plastered in the center of it. It gleamed, even on paper, with towering skyscrapers catching the sunlight on their glass facades, lush green parks surrounding everything. It seemed like the perfect place to start his new life.
The man lounging at the sign-up table jolted upright, startled by the sudden noise of Jed’s proclamation. He turned his head to the side to meet Jed’s gaze. Assuming his random exclamation was a question to be answered, the man said:
“Precisely. That is what it says, sir.” The front desk worker replied. “Three years. Such as it was last year, and the year before that.”
There’s a beat of awkward silence. Jed looked the desk worker up and down, both amazed and slightly weirded out by how he could turn his head so far without moving the rest of his body. As Jed surveyed him, he noticed the name tag on his shirt read: “Mr. Strigi.”
“The contestants need to train, gather fans, and secure sponsors. It’s a rather costly journey to the top.” Mr. Strigi’s voice sounded posh, but scholarly — Jed could tell he knew his stuff. “One that would be… tripled in price if it needed to be achieved all within twelve months.”
“Oh…” Jed shifted away from the poster, edging closer to the table, a swirl of emotions beginning to churn within him. This was getting… real. Doubt gnawed at his resolve, threatening to turn it back into nothing, but he powered through. This was his ticket out of here. He needed to do this. “So, um. Is there an entry fee? Or, do the fees come later on?” He fumbled with his hands as he spoke, suddenly very aware of the way he was standing, and wondered if it looked normal. Jed placed his hands in his pockets, then took them back out. Both felt weird, and for some reason he couldn’t remember what worked best.
“Entry fee?” Mr. Strigi echoed the question, a note of judgmental confusion in his voice. The individuals who signed up for this boxing bracket were, well, boxers. Boxers who had fought in local, city-wide, and even national matches before arriving here. They had cultivated supportive fans over the years, and were guided by coaches who were constantly debriefing them on essential information that would guarantee success both inside, and out of, the ring. They had paid countless entry fees until the day came where their fanbase could finally handle it for them and even celebrated that big win. How could this person be so uninformed at this stage in their career?
But, it was Mr. Strigi’s duty to provide information. So, as uncritically as possible, he replied to Jed’s strange question with: “Indeed, the entry fee is a prerequisite. Would you prefer to settle the payment now, upfront, or do you require a form to present your coach or sponsors with?” He began sifting through one of the piles of paper on the desk, thumbing the informational brochure on the top, preparing to give that to Jed as well. Mr. Strigi had come into contact with his fair share of boxers, especially today, and they all had a certain confidence that this guy very obviously did not.
“No, I’ll…” Jed’s hand trembled, visibly, as he patted around his coat pocket, grabbing out his wallet. He couldn’t tell if his bout of anxiety was from his nerves or from the exhilaration that came with taking a real step forward. “I guess… I’ll pay for it.”
“That’s perfectly acceptable.” Mr Strigi put the brochure down innocuously in front of Jed — a subtle suggestion that he might want to take some time to actually acquaint himself with the rules and regulations of this bracket before committing — and retrieved the cash box. He leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms, watching Jed stammer. He wondered if this young man would try and negotiate the price. “The price is $3,000. The journey to the top is a costly endeavor, I’m afraid. And certainly not for the faint of heart.”
Jed froze, then looked up from his wallet, position unwavering. Three grand?!? That’s like… over an entire month of work for him! And, even then, if he somehow managed to save it all up, that means no paying for rent. Or water. Or heat. Oh man, his roommate would kill him. Jed’s heart pounded, loud, and he could feel it all over his body. He dreaded what he would have to do next: beg for a fee waiver. What would this guy think of him? He seemed so… refined. There was no way Mr. Strigi would take pity on him. His palms started to clam up, and sweat beads formed on his forehead. The weight of anticipation was beginning to press down on him. His bones felt achy.
“Are you alright, sir?” Mr. Strigi asked.
“Um, yes, I’m… I’m just wondering if there might be, um--”
Before he could finish what he was starting, a posse of three unusually elegantly dressed women came in through the front door, moving in a triangle formation--instantly, Jed could tell they were from the inner city based on their walk cycles alone. They held themselves with conviction, as if every step mattered more than the next. Their tailored clothes with colorful patterning and excessive jewelry screamed that they had the time to get ready in the morning without worrying they’d possibly miss the bus. Two took the lead, while the caboose was engaged in a loud, abrasive phone call, chastising some unfortunate business man for a three minute delay. He was only a few minutes off schedule, but the way she was reprimanding him sounded like it was years. The two in front huddled close together, with the taller one, who Jed assumed was the leader, listing off things for the smaller one to take down. She scribbled everything being said as fast as possible, but from the looks at how jumbled and messy her notes were, Jed could tell she was missing some crucial information that she’d get scolded for forgetting later. The putative leader, Jed noticed, seemed overdressed for a place like this. He looked her up and down, and, when he got to her face, recognition struck. He had definitely seen her somewhere before. But where?
The three of them practically pushed Jed out of the way, and the leader slammed her hands and her large, off white duffle bag on the desk. She unzipped it to the sight of numerous Manila folders, each overflowing with papers threatening to break free of the faux leather prison they were stuffed into.
“Good morning, Johann!” the leader said. “I hope I’m not interrupting anything, but it’s time for me to pick the fighters I want to work with.”
Jed watched her, observantly.
She was the same woman that sponsored all those big name fighters. Her presence was even more commanding in person than on television, and, with it, an undeniable desire rooted itself in Jed, taking a surprisingly intense hold. If that’s how driven and sophisticated the people from the inner city acted, he wanted to be there. Jed wanted to be one of them.