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Jamie Da Cruz had suffered through a long, hot frustrating day where nothing at all seemed to have gone right. First, he discovered that a whole test plot of his new hambean strain had started growing wildly irregular for no good reason. His boss hadn't believed him when he transferred pictures back to the main Genetic Engineering section office with a suggestion that there had been a foul up in the genevat mixing routine; he thought it more likely to be a mistake in the codes fed into the section's computer -- as if a computer would make a mistake like that. It would have rejected any error obvious enough to have produced such results, and probably added some remark about the fallibility of human memory as well.
The test plot occupied the far corner of a five acre experimental garden at the furthest distance from the center of the Houston Enclave. At the far corner of the test plot itself, Jamie encountered the next anomaly of the day. A small section of the hambeans, tiny and wrinkled as they were, seemed to have attracted the attention of a hungry invader. Several of the little tree-like bushes had been tipped over and the thumb sized hambeans stripped from them.
"Not rats again," he thought. "Damn, will we never get rid of the cursed things?" Rats were a continuing and seemingly insoluble problem in every Enclave, not to mention the wild country as well. They were far more intelligent than the original breeds, and still as elusively ineradicable as ever. Even the few kept as pets or research animals had never developed much of a rapport with man and had to be carefully watched. As for the feral ones -- Jamie shuddered and bent tocheck for tracks. Surprised, he straightened up again.
"A dog," he said aloud. "I will be damned!" But then a puzzled frown crept across the brown contours of his face.
No. Any dog would know better. Maybe a puppy, he thought hopefully for an instant, then discarded the idea -- the tracks were far too large. Besides, it was almost impossible to envisage so undisciplined a puppy. The enclave bitches knew their place far too well to ever allow their pups to run so wild, so near the enclave borders, and particularly not in the critically important agricultural section of the Enclave. That left only one possibility.
"I will be double-damned," he said aloud again. "A feral dog!" That could only mean a break in the barrier. Jamie bent again and followed the tracks in the soft earth to their source. Sure enough, where the test plot abutted a corner of the barrier he found a scattering of loose earth around a moderate sized hole that tunneled deeply beneath the plastiwire fence. Peering closely, he could see through the grid to where some recent rains had washed a gully beneath the corner embankment. The intruder had only needed to enlarge the opening to gain entrance. He could plainly see where the tracks led from the hole into the hambean plot, but could find none leading out.
"That's it, then," he muttered to himself, touching his holstered laser gun for assurance. A breach in the barrier was certainly not an unknown event, but mice or rats were the more usual culprits. Unless driven by hunger, the larger enhanced animals stayed clear of the Enclaves. Generations of experience had taught them that there was little chance of survival inside Enclave boundaries. When the rare one did intrude, it was almost always caught and killed within hours. The Enclave pets always gave an alarm at the first sight or scent of an intruder; they minded not a whit about snitching on their feral cousins. Their own status and responsibilities within the Enclaves were wholeheartedly oriented toward their human masters; feral animals must fend for themselves. Nevertheless, it had to be reported.
Jamie gave a command to his body computer, which had been surgically embedded in his left forearm once full growth had been reached. Only a slight swelling of musculature indicated it's presence. A brightly colored image materialized at a comfortable chest height two feet in front of him. At the same time he felt the tingle of his finger mouse coming on line. The mouse was a mostly useless relic, but he did use it occasionally.
"Office 112," he said. The holographic swirl of color dissolved and was replaced by an above the waist picture of a young, rather pretty dark haired woman. She looked up from some out of sight business. An inquisitive smile crossed her face, crinkling the edges of her liquid brown eyes.
"You again, Jamie?" she said. "What is it this time?"
"I've got a barrier break, Jeannie, in the same section where I called about the hambeans this morning. Probably a feral dog."
"Oh, My. You've already upset the boss once today. Are you sure?" Concern passed over her face like clouds obscuring the sun.
"I'm sure," Jamie said. "Go ahead and tell Carlos about it. At least he can't blame this on the computer."
"He'll be upset, anyway, but I'll let him know."
"Let him. He can't pin this one on me."
"I know. This just seems to be one of those days." She leaned forward. "Your mustache needs trimming. Want me to do it tonight? I'll throw in a back rub."
"Sounds good. Can I call you after I get in?"
"Seguro. Will you notify maintenance and security, or shall I?"
"I'll do it. You appease the boss. Don't let him take it out on someone's pet."
"Leave it to me. 'By."
"'By", Jamie said to her dissolving image. The holographic display of his body computer reappeared in standard mode. He voiced the area maintenance code, then split the screen to show the foreman the map coordinates. He used his finger mouse to sketch in the precise location of the break in the barrier. The mouse really wasn't necessary; he could have used his voice just as effectively, but he liked it, in the same way a man might favor a straight razor and shaving cream in the age of depilators. Once that was done, he quickly notified the Enclave security section of the breach, then sat down to wait. He backed well away from the opening in the barrier and sat down cross-legged in front of it. He drew his laser gun and waited for the maintenance crew.
Earlier in the century, well before Jamie's birth, genetic manipulation of plants and animals had become the predominant growth industry of the world, including Moon City and the space stations. One of the products of that manipulation was genetically enhanced animals, many of them bred for the pet industry. Intelligent and semi-intelligent animals presented little problem in the controlled environments of the space stations and on the moon, but earth was a different matter entirely.
Once the human genome was resolved, that of other mammals presented relatively few problems. Inevitably, scientists began mixing human and animal genes, and sometimes whole chromosome segments. Human genes were inserted willy nilly into those of man's favored species in an orgy of experimentation. As the craft became increasingly simpler, control became more difficult, and considering the demand for altered and enhanced pets, well nigh impossible. For a while, the insertion of human genes into other animals was banned by most industrialized nations, but the simplicity of the process and the crying need of tattered third world countries for hard currency inevitably resulted in a huge clandestine trade in genetically enhanced pets and altered farm animals. There was no longer even a complete classification of the number and kind of new species. There were super-dogs and super-cats, imbued with the gene complexes for rational thought and language facility; intelligent rats and mice, originally used in research; semi-intelligent rabbits and ducks, once crafted as Easter presents for children; monkeys and orangutans; cows and horses; ferrets and wildcats; parrots and canaries; sheep and dolphins. For almost any breed of animal, there was a demand. The only common denominator was that almost all had at one time or another gotten outside the bonds of human control (where any was attempted) and begun to breed in the wilds. Interbreeding with the original stock was also rampant, sometimes successful, other times not. When it was successful, the new genes were expressed as dominant; the genetic engineers had planned it that way. By the time real problems began to develop, and solutions attempted, it was far too late to put the genie back in the bottle.
What happened in the United States over the next fifty years was only the forefront of the wave of disaster that swept over the other industrialized nations, and soon after, the third world countries as well. The United States did fare better than other nations initially in controlling the larger animals, simply because of the plethora of armed citizens. For the first time in history, the murder rate in that country actually declined as people began shooting cats and dogs and rats rather than each other -- that is, until the food supplies began to fail.
The genetic engineers had done their work too well. The same resistance to disease and the capacity for longer life which was now a genetic heritage of most humans was also an inbred constituent of the feral animals, and it served them well. Not only that, they now carried the capacity for rational thought that enabled them to avoid all attempts at extermination.
Intelligent mice and rats and rabbits turned up their noses at baited grain and ate the food crops. They tunneled underground and waited out the poison sprays until rain swept them away, then emerged to eat again. Newly concocted diseases didn't phase them, any more than they would have humans; the same resistance factors that humans now carried in their genes were also bred into the new animals. Induced plagues simply killed off the old species and left the new to breed explosively into empty ecological niches. Had it not been for the enhanced carnivores, those pests might have driven humanity completely off the planet. As it was, depletion of farm crops and attacks by starving packs of feral carnivores on any isolated dwelling gradually drove mankind into the present day Enclaves where they thought an uneasy balance had finally been achieved. They were wrong, but for the present, humans controlled their Enclaves and gradually adapted to them, even retaining a residue of loyal, intelligent pets content to live with their masters. Outside the Enclaves, the enhanced animals warred on each other and on unaltered species without let or hindrance.
In the third world, the situation was even worse. A reverse migration of the enhanced animals back to their source, fueled by inexorable population pressure, was at it's peak. Less advanced technologically, these countries were rapidly devolving into anarchy and chaos as the reverse migration combined to breed with an already large population of enhanced animals. The only spots of stability were in areas being mined or drilled for vital resources. There, the more technologically sophisticated Enclaves offered their help in maintaining integrity in return for the raw materials of civilization, but even these sanctuaries would probably have to be abandoned before long. Moon City and the space stations hoped to get asteroid mining going by then to take up the slack, but that was by no means a certainty. They had their own problems.
Within the Enclaves (with a much reduced population), and in space, life and culture had stabilized for the time being, but it was only temporary. Ecology all over the world was in flux, with many new species contending for space and succor. Intelligent as the newly enhanced animals were, they had no understanding of how they were altering the environment, to their own detriment. Birds were becoming fewer; insects more numerous, deserts expanding. Eventually, a climax ecology would ensue, but what shape it would take, no one dared predict.
The population of the Enclaves tended to ignore what was happening outside. For the nonce, they were safe behind their barricades. Only their leaders worried, and they could see no good end to the pet plague which was overwhelming the earth. Within the Enclaves (with a much reduced population), and in space, the general population thought that life and culture was again on the upswing. In some ways it was. The rather drastic police state methods necessary for the formation of the Enclaves was now giving way in some of them to a more lenient form of government, albeit a much regulated and in some ways a more limited one. In particular, control of the land and sea outside the Enclaves was no longer a given. Dolphins, for instance, were adamantly opposed to deep sea fishing and had made it so prohibitively expensive that it had almost ceased. Also, cross-country travel other than by air was dangerous and almost unheard of. Even air travel was limited mostly to vital cargo handling. The only regularly scheduled passenger service was to and from the major Enclaves and from the east and west spaceports. As a result, each Enclave was gradually developing a unique culture of it's own.
The Houston Enclave, for instance, had a much more southern and Hispanic oriented culture than the relatively nearby Dallas sanctuary. Houston had gotten most of the surviving refugees from El Paso and the Golden Triangle when they had finally been abandoned, while Dallas drew it's expanded population from Oklahoma and the lower Midwest.
Genetic agriculture enabled the Enclaves to survive. It provided them with altered foodstuff of much higher yield than formerly, rich in protein and vitamins, and resistant to everything except harvesting robots. Genetic manipulation of food crops kept the Enclaves viable, even though the same sort of meddling was responsible for their necessity to begin with.
Copyright © 2003 by Darrell Bain
Posted August 30, 2010
No text was provided for this review.