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Jamie Da Cruz woke up and looked around his bedroom. Even after six months, he still wasn't used to the opulence. Even the bed was large and luxurious, spacious enough for four or five persons to sleep comfortably -- or do other things on it. Of course his previous apartment wouldn't have been large enough for himself, Jeannie, Kristi, and their four pets, even if John Whitmire of the Houston Enclave Security Section had allowed him to stay there, which he hadn't. Since Jamie had become so important, Whitmire was insistent that he stay within the confines of the security building to prevent a possible abduction by Moon City agents and, Jamie had to admit, the apartment Whitmire had furnished went a long way toward keeping him happy.
The bedroom was furnished with state of the art holovision fixtures keyed to his body computer and the adjoining comfort room contained facilities sufficient to bathe and refresh a bull walrus and all his family. It was more than enough for he and his consorts and anyone else they might want to invite over for a party.
The large living room was decorated with an assortment of Kristi's beautifully tanned hides, ranging from deer to rabbit and bobcat. On one wall Kristi's spare laserifle was racked on animal horns, and her extra handgun and knife dangled below on a belt and shoulder harness arrangement. The one large and several small loungers scattered around the room gave it, together with the hides and weapons, a casual, lived-in look. One wall was blank, although it contained a barely discernible door. It was used for the holovision projections. An unobtrusive accessory computer console was tucked inone corner, and another door led to a large autokitchen and dining area. To one side of the bed, another door opened out into the privacy of a large fenced yard, complete with a small pool and varied food shrubs and other nutritive plants.
Jamie removed himself from the bed and into the comfort room. Trimming his mustache, he reflected that Conan, the feral dog who had been the courier of the original alien message on a thought disk would never have been able to contact his pets -- and him -- had he been living here then rather than closer to the edge of the barriers. But in that case, he wouldn't have met Kristi, nor possibly have gotten so involved with Jeannie. Even so, he sometimes missed the simplicity of his life as it had been before Conan appeared. Then, his biggest worry had been aberrations in the hambean line of plants he had developed, and the foibles of his boss, the chief of the Genetic Engineering Section of the Houston Enclave.
Jamie heard soft footsteps behind him and knew that Jeannie had arrived home from her job with the almost completed spacecraft's computer system. The door had allowed her to enter silently, alerted by the code from her body computer. A pair of slim hands stole around his eyes.
"Hi, Jeannie. You're late"
"How did you know it was me and not Kristi?" Jeanie asked, puzzled.
"I checked with John before I left work. He said their patrol ran into some problems and were going to be late."
"She's not hurt is she?" Jeannie asked. Alarm crept into her voice.
"He didn't say, but I'd guess not. He didn't look worried."
"Good," Jeannie said. She circled his waist with an arm and drew him into the living room, pushing him down onto the big lounger. Fuzzy Britches, the vari-hued enhanced cat made a run for Jamie's lap, but Jeannie beat him to it. Fuzzy Britches didn't complain; he simply held up for a moment, then hopped up into Jeannie's lap in turn.
Jeannie was a small, dark, pretty girl, revealing a Hispanic legacy similar to Jamie's own brown countenance. She wore the standard Enclave coveralls, sleeves rolled above the elbows and the front closure open almost to her navel. A filmy underthing showed the swell of her breasts, large for her small frame.
Jamie helped himself, running a hand inside the lapel of the coveralls and giving her an affectionate squeeze.
"Mmm," Jeannie responded. "Now, or shall we wait for Kristi?"
"Let's wait. Are you hungry?"
"Not yet." Jeannie tried unsuccessfully to smooth down Fuzzy Britches' thick wiry pelt and got a soft purr as a reward.
"How's the work going?"
Jeanie's face brightened, as it always did when talk turned to computers or sex. "Oh, good. I've about finished the basic programming of the ship's computer, and that's all I can do until we install it. When will that be?"
"It shouldn't be much longer. Everything is basically finished, or as near as I can tell the engineers from that Alien thought disk." Jamie fingered the thin, saucer-sized disk the alien had crafted and tuned to his mind alone just before it died and thought of all the changes that had occurred since Conan brought the original message to him from the alien on an even smaller, general purpose disk dangling from his crude collar. Of all the dogs sent out by the band of feral humans after the alien's lander crashed in their vicinity, only Conan had been able to contact a human from one of the Enclaves -- and apparently met his death in the subsequent fighting between the rival Dallas and Houston Enclaves over access to the alien technology.
"Where's Princess?" Jeannine asked Fuzzy Britches as she smoothed down his springy hair, only to have it bounce up again. Princess was Kristi's white-haired enhanced cat and Fuzzy Britches' paramour whenever she was in heat.
"Asleep," Woggly the dog said, coming into the room. "Cats always sleeping."
Woggly was large, brown, and shaggy haired. He was enhanced as well, but not quite as intelligent as Fuzzy Britches, though it would take someone who knew them both to be able to tell the difference. Both of Jamie's pets were loyal and protective, and both had been with him on his excursion into the wild country beyond the Houston Enclave. It had been a horrific experience for Jamie (and Jeannie), but the pets had enjoyed it (other than when their humans were in danger), and had been agitating for another adventure. Life inside the Enclave seemed tame to them anymore. Jamie had been telling them that he was soon to go on the first test flight of the new spaceship and they both wanted to accompany him. Jamie had tried to explain the differences between an earth and a space environment.
"In space, you wouldn't weigh anything, Fuzz. You'd float."
"Like birds?" Fuzzy Britches asked, licking his lips. "Birds don't play fair. They fly away when I chase them."
"Cats climb trees," Woggly said, pointing out that he had his problems as well.
"Not the same," Fuzzy Britches said. "Us friends. Birds food."
"Never mind that," Jamie said. "There aren't any birds in space anyway, and damn few on earth anymore, for that matter. And there are no bad cats to chase, either, Woggly."
The animals were aware in a way that environments different from their own existed elsewhere, mainly from watching holovision. The Houston Enclave was widely separated from the two coastal spaceports, which were still functional, so they had no live reference to spaceships, only pictures. The animals liked watching holovision, but had a hard time separating fact from fiction.
Fuzzy Britches considered the conversation then settled the issue in his own mind. "Take Kristi," He said. "Have fun. Fight. Catch mice. Have lots of fun."
Jamie shrugged and gave -up trying to explain further. Since Kristi had come into their lives six months ago, they would henceforth associate her with adventure. Kristi was a Ranger, going out frequently with others of her profession into the wilds around the Enclave, observing and cataloging the ever changing mix of feral, intelligently enhanced animals, the descendents of genetically altered pets and laboratory animals.
One experience had been enough for Jamie. He was a genetic engineer himself, or had been until his encounter with the alien in it's crashed landing craft, but his specialty had been in agriculture, using his craft to help satisfy a hungry population confined to limited area. He had little interest in adventure, unlike Kristi Carson, who seemed to thrive on it. He had been more or less forced into that one expedition, but he had to admit that it had been worth it. If he had not gone on that expedition, he would probably never had met Kristi, nor would Kristi have met Jeannie, and the three of them formed a household. It was strange, but not nearly as strange as the situation the earth was in now.
Near the end of the last century, the earth was in turmoil. Back in the early part of the century, well before Jamie's birth, genetic manipulation and its by-products had become the predominant growth industry of the world, including Moon City and the space stations. One of the products was mentally enhanced animals, many of them bred for the pet industry. Intelligent and semi-intelligent animals presented little problem in the controlled environment of space, but earth was a different matter entirely.
Once the human genome had been resolved, that of other mammals presented little additional problem. Inevitably, scientists began mixing human and animal genes and sometime whole chromosome segments. These were inserted back into man's favored species. As the craft became increasingly simpler, control became more difficult, especially given the demand for enhanced or altered pets. At first the insertion of human genes into other animals was banned by most nations, but the simplicity of the process and the urgent need of bankrupt third world economies for hard currency created a huge clandestine trade in genetically enhanced pets, farm animals and laboratory specimens which became impossible to stop. 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 bred for use in research; semi-intelligent rabbits and ducks, crafted for the Easter trade; 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 control (where any was attempted) and begun to breed. Back-breeding with the original stock also occurred, sometimes successful, other times not, but eventually the gene pool of many, many species was unalterably changed. By the time real problems developed, it was far too late to stop the process.
North America was the prime market for enhanced animals, especially pets, and what happened there over the next fifty years was only the forefront of the wave of disasters that swept over the industrialized world, and soon after, the less affluent countries. The United States did fare better than other countries initially in controlling the larger animals, simply by reason of the plethora of armed citizens in that nation. For the first time in its history, the murder rate in that country actually dropped as people began shooting cats and rats and dogs and rabbits, as well as other, more fearsome beasts, rather than each other -- at least they did until the food supplies began to fail.
Intelligent mice and rats and rabbits became too smart to be taken in by baited grain and ate the food crops with a devilish ability at avoiding traps. They tunneled underground and waited out the poison sprays until rains washed them away, then came out to feast again. Had it not been for the more intelligent dogs, cats, and other carnivores, they might well have driven humanity completely off the planet. As it was, depletion of the fields and attacks by starving packs of feral animals on any isolated dwelling gradually drove men into the huge present day Enclaves where an uneasy balance was finally achieved, although the ultimate future of the Enclaves was by no means certain.
However, humans did control their Enclaves, at least for the present, and gradually adapted to them, even retaining a residue of loyal, intelligent pets content to live with their masters and provide no little help in maintaining their integrity. But outside the barriers, the enhanced and altered animals warred on each other and on unaltered species without let or hindrance.
In the third world countries, however, there was no such security. A reverse migration of the animals back to their source, fueled by inexorable population pressure was at its peak. Less advanced technologically, these countries were rapidly devolving into chaos and anarchy as the reverse migration of enhanced animals swept back to their source, haunting their originators with barren fields and ecological nightmares. The only spots of relative stability were in areas being mined or drilled for vital resources. There, the few remaining nations still technologically sophisticated offered help in maintaining areas of integrity in return for the vital resources and raw materials of civilization.
Within the Enclaves (with a much-reduced population), life and culture began a temporary upswing. The rather drastic police methods necessary for the formation of the Enclaves was now giving way to a more relaxed form of government, albeit a much regulated and in some ways a more limited one.
There were still problems, of course. Dolphins, for instance, were adamantly against deep-sea fishing, especially the use of drift nets, and deep-sea mining was becoming so prohibitively expensive that it was gradually dying out. Also, any cross country movement other than air travel had become so dangerous that it was almost unheard of, and the air travel was limited mostly to vital cargo handling by the ubiquitous floaters powered by solarmagnetic engines and fuel cells. The only regularly scheduled passenger traffic was to and from the major Enclaves, and from the east and west spaceports, and even that traffic was gradually lessening. As a result, the Enclaves were beginning to develop diverging cultures.
The Houston Enclave, for instance, displayed a predominately southern and Hispanic identity, present to a degree originally, then reinforced by the influx of surviving refugees from other large southern and coastal cities when those areas had been abandoned, while the Dallas Enclave drew most of it's expanded population from Oklahoma City and the lower mid west.
Genetic agriculture was the saving force for the Enclaves. It enabled them to grow altered foodstuff of very high yield, protein-rich and resistant to almost all blights and diseases. Genetic manipulation of crop fruits and vegetables enabled the Enclaves to survive, for the time being at least, even though that same sort of meddling was responsible for the Enclaves to begin with.
Inside the barricades, life went on, punctuated with a curious dichotomy. On the one hand, survival required a high educational level and a technologically orientated work force to maintain the infrastructure of the Enclaves, as well as innovative and hard working technicians to keep the economy functioning while trying to cope with the increasing paucity of spare parts and raw materials. On the other, the resolution of the human genome had eliminated almost all sickness and diseases, including sexually transmitted ones, and that led in turn to a hedonistic, sexually liberated life style manifested in extravagant home and group entertainment, group families such as Jamie, Jeannie, and Kristi had formed, and an almost total lack of organized religious beliefs or observances. Crime, other than petty theft was almost unknown, for there was only one punishment for anything more serious: banishment to the wilds, where survival could be gauged in days, weeks, or a month at best.
It was a curious life by some historical standards, but like citizens throughout history, they accepted their circumstances as though they would go on forever and ever. Even their increased life spans were not sufficient to make them realize that change rather than stability is the permanent state of human affairs.
Copyright © 2003 by Darrell Bain