Anyway, here it is...
Origin of Species
I watched the Toad.
It had found a fish head washed up on the shore. Haddock, maybe. Something large. The Toad gnawed it in perfect silence, as they did everything.
I crouched behind some rocks ten meters away, also perfectly silent. But that wasn't the most important thing. The most important thing was not moving, not a single twitch.
I’d learned that Toads hunted primarily by sight. Some could smell you, others couldn't. But they were all really good at tracking movement. Even in dim light. Even in pitch dark, sometimes.
They spent most of their time in the sea. If you saw their skin, you'd understand why.
I made a miniscule adjustment to the sights of my rifle, an old Heckler & Koch G3 that dated back to the Cold War but still worked just fine.
I'd seen Toads that could pass for human if you didn't look too closely, and others that are the thing you just knew lived under your bed when you were a kid. This one was somewhere in the middle.
Mist coiled in thick tendrils around the volcanic mountains behind us. Dawn came late here. Not just because it was midwinter and the days were short, but because of the freakish confluence of weather and geography that was Iceland in the year 2086.
Less than a century ago, you could see Vatnajökull glacier from here. Well, that was gone now, along with the rest of the highland icecaps. What you saw instead was the eyewall of the hypercane Tisiphone. It started about thirty miles out to sea and pierced the heavens like a fluffy white Tower of Babel.
The locals called it Fornjot, father of the winds, and it acted as an impenetrable barrier to the outside world. Not that much was left there anyway.
I watched the Toad, the back of its hairless skull magnified in my crosshairs. It was a young one. Half-grown. It ate with small, precise bites, oddly delicate.
I was not a soft person, or a sentimental person. And yet I hesitated.
I had never done that before.
The top of the eyewall blushed a deep pink. The Toad stopped eating. It braced its webbed hands on the sand and watched the sun rise.
I knew I should kill it. And yet I hesitated.
It cocked its head in a birdlike motion. The very edge of the storm cloud burned red-gold, like a knife in a blacksmith's forge. Warmth spread across the beach. The Toad basked in it. They were ectotherms, and relied on external sources to regulate their body temperature.
But it wasn't just the heat this Toad was enjoying. I could see that. It was the beauty of the sunrise.
I lowered my rifle, only a fraction, but that was all it took. The Toad stiffened. Its head turned, a quick, jerky motion. We looked at each other.
Its eyes were very human. I thought they were brown, like mine, but I couldn't be sure.
I stood, slowly. I shouldered my rifle.
The Toad went back to its fish head. It picked the bones clean and then it slipped into the waves.
I started walking up the eastern ring road, back to town.
We had made them, the Toads, in a last-ditch attempt to adapt. Their release on the surface was a dizzyingly stupid mistake, redeemed only by the fact that they were supposed to be sterile.
As it turned out, their breeding was highly accelerated, meaning countless new generations had arisen since the first group was set free in the Faroe Islands 20 years ago. Whole new gene combinations, human and amphibian, that were never anticipated since offspring were supposedly impossible.
That's what made them so dangerous. The rules were always changing.
I was a member of the militia. I was supposed to protect us from them.
It had been many years since they staged any sort of concerted attack. The last was in 2072 and the harbor towns of Geysir and Gullfoss were overrun before the Icelanders pushed the Toads back into the sea.
But still we patrolled and we watched the shores, day and night. Attacks on adult humans were rare. Toads were omniverous and we were not their preferred prey. Not usually.
Needless to say, I told no one what I had done.
But I wondered about the Toads in a way that felt new and not particularly comfortable.
I wondered what they thought of this new world we'd created, this world of raging, acid seas and howling winds. If they felt at home here. If they had a right to.
I wondered if they dreamed.
Very early the next morning, I came back to the beach. I left my rifle at home but I brought a bowl of saithe stew. I set it on the sand and waited.
The sky lightened. A small form crept out of the waves.
She had large, dark eyes, a snub nose and a wide thin-lipped mouth. I could tell right away it was a she. The gill slits in her neck flexed, then sealed shut. She looked at me, her strange, alien face expressionless. I tried not to stare. Not to move.
She came closer. She sniffed the bowl. Then she sat down a few feet away, imitating my crossed legs.
The waves washed in and out. A razorbill glided past, headed for its nest in the cliffs. Fornjot caught fire.
We watched the sun rise together.