About the Author
Greg Bear is the author of over twenty-five books, which have been translated into seventeen languages. He has won science fiction’s highest honors and is considered the natural heir to Arthur C. Clarke. The recipient of two Hugo Awards and four Nebula Awards, Bear has been called “the best working writer of hard science fiction” by the Science Fiction Encyclopedia. Many of his novels, such as Darwin’s Radio, are considered to be classics of his generation. Bear is married to Astrid Anderson—who is the daughter of science fiction great Poul Anderson—and they are the parents of two children, Erik and Alexandria. Bear’s recent publications include the thriller Quantico and its sequel, Mariposa; the epic science fiction novel City at the End of Time; and the generation starship novel Hull Zero Three.
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Just Over the Horizon
The Complete Short Fiction of Greg Bear Volume One
By Greg Bear
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2016 Greg Bear
All rights reserved.
Brian Thomsen was my editor at Warner Books during the late 1980s and early 1990s. To help promote my second collection of short stories, Tangents, Brian suggested I write an original story. I had been thinking for some time about the day-to-day effects of the genetic revolution — as opposed to the more spectacular possibilities described in Blood Music and Eon — and also, what sort of tribal distinctions might arise between those who have been genetically enhanced and those who have not. The beginning of our acute awareness of tribes is often in high school.
"Sisters" was the result.
Fortunately, this story preceded the excellent film Gattaca, which I highly recommend. It's one of the ten best science fiction films of the last few decades.
"But you're the only one, Letitia."
With a look of utmost sincerity, Reena Cathcart laid a light, slender hand on Letitia Blakely's shoulder. "You know none of the others can. I mean ..." She stopped, awareness of her faux pas dawning. "You're simply the only one who can play the old — the older — woman."
Letitia stared down at the hall floor, eyes and face hot, then circled her gaze up to the ceiling, trying to keep fresh tears from spilling over. "We're late for first period," she said. A few stragglers sauntered down the clean and carpeted hall of the new school wing to their classes. "Why the old woman? Why didn't you come to me when there was some other part to play?"
Reena tossed her long black hair, perfect hazel eyes imploring. She was too smart not to know what she was doing. Smart — but not terribly sensitive. "You're the type," she said.
"You mean frowsy?"
Reena didn't react. She was intent on a yes answer, the perfect solution to her problems.
"Or just dumpy?"
"You shouldn't be ashamed of how you look."
"I look frowsy and dumpy! I'm perfect for the old woman in your lysing play, and you're the only one with the guts to ask me."
"We wanted to give you a chance to join the group. You're such a loner and we wanted you to feel like you're one of us."
"Bullshit!" The tears dripped down Letitia's cheeks and Reena backed away. "Just leave me alone."
"No need to swear." Petulant, offended.
Letitia raised her hand. Reena backed away, swung her hair again defiantly, turned, and walked off with a gentle sway of her hips. Letitia leaned against the tile wall and wiped her eyes, trying to avoid smudging her carefully applied makeup. The damage was done, however. She could feel the tracks of her mother's mascara and smudged eyeshadow. With a sigh, she walked to the bathroom, not caring how late she was. She just wanted to go home. But she wouldn't give them that satisfaction.
Coming into class fifteen minutes after the bell, she found the students in self-ordered discussion, with no sign of their teacher, Mr. Brant. Several of Reena's drama group gave Letitia frosty looks as she took her seat.
"TB," Edna Corman said beneath her breath from across the aisle.
"RC you," Letitia replied, head cocked to one side, her tone precisely matching Edna's. She poked John Lockwood in the shoulder. He leaned back and fixed his black eyes on hers. Lockwood didn't care for socializing; he seldom noticed the exchanges going on around him. "Where's Mr. Brant?"
"Georgia Fischer blitzed. He took her to the counselors. Told us to plug in and pursue."
"Oh." Georgia Fischer had transferred two months ago from a superwhiz class in Oakland. She was brighter than most but blitzed about once every two weeks. "I may be fat and ugly," Letitia said for Lockwood's ears only. "But I never blitz."
"Me neither," Lockwood said. He was PPC, like Georgia, but not a superwhiz. Letitia liked him, but not enough to feel threatened by him. "Better pursue."
Letitia leaned forward and closed her eyes to concentrate. Her mod activated and projections danced in front of her, then steadied. She had been cramming patient psych for a week and was approaching threshold. The little Computer Graphics nursie in whites and pillcap began discussing insanouts of terminal patient care, which all seemed very TB to Letitia; who died of diseases now, anyway? She made her decision and cut to the same CG nursie discussing the shock of RoR — replacement and recovery. What she really wanted to study was colony medicine, but how could she ever make it Out There?
Some PPCs had been designed by their parents to qualify physically and mentally for space careers. Some had been equipped with bichemistries, one of which became active in Earth's gravity, the other in space. How could an NG compete with that?
Of the seven hundred adolescents in her high school training programs, Letitia Blakely was one of ten NGs — possessors of natural, unaltered genomes. Everyone else was PPCs or Pre-Planned Children, the proud bearer of juggled genes, lovely and stable, with just the proper amount of adipose tissue and just the proper infusion of parental characteristics and chosen features to be beautiful and different; tall, healthy, hair manageable, skin unblemished, well-adjusted (except for the occasional blitzer) with warm and sunny personalities.
The old derogatory slang for PPCs was RC — Recombined.
Letitia was slightly overweight, with pasty skin, hair frizzy, nose bulbous and chin weak. One breast was larger than the other and already showing a droop pronounced enough to grip a stylus. She experienced painful menstrual periods and an absolute indisposition to athletics. She was the Sport. That's what they called NGs. Sports. TBs — Throwbacks.
All the beautiful PPCs risked a great deal if they showed animosity toward the NGs. Her parents had the right to sue the system if she was harassed. This wasn't a private school where parents paid astronomical tuitions; this was an old-fashioned public school, with public school programs and regulations. Teachers tended to nuke out on raggers. And, she admitted to herself with a painful loop of recrimination, she wasn't making it any easier for them. Sure, she could join in, play the old woman — add some realism to their little drama, with her genuine TB phys! She could be jolly and self-deprecating like Helen Roberti, who wasn't all that bad-looking anyway — she could pass if she straightened her hair. Or she could be quiet and camouflaged like Bernie Thibhault.
The CG nursie exited from RoR care. Letitia had hardly absorbed a thing. Realtime mod education was a bore, but she hadn't yet qualified for on-the-job training. She had only one course of career study now — no alternates — and two aesthetic programs, individual orchestra on Friday afternoon and LitVid publishing on alternating weekends.
For pre-med she was a washout, but she wouldn't admit it. She was NG. Her brain took longer to mature; it wasn't so finely wired. She felt incredibly slow. She doubted whether she would ever be successful as a doctor; she was squeamish, and nobody, not even her fellow NGs, would want to be treated by a doctor who grew pale at the sight of blood.
Letitia silently told nursie to start over again. Nursie obliged. Reena Cathcart, meanwhile, had dropped into her mod with a vengeance. Her blissed expression told it all. Realtime slid into her so smooth, so quick, it was pure joy. No zits on her brain.
Mr. Brant returned ten minutes later with a pale and bleary-eyed Georgia Fischer. She sat two seats behind Letitia and over one aisle. She plugged in her mod dutifully and Brant went to his console to bring up the multimedia and coordinate the whole class. Edna Corman whispered something to her.
"Not a bad blitz, all in all," Georgia commented softly.
"How are you doing, Letitia?" the autocounselor asked. The CG face projected in front of her with slight wirehash, to which Letitia paid no attention. CG ACs were the jams and she didn't appreciate them even in pristine perfection.
"Poorly," she said.
"Really? Care to elaborate?"
"I want to talk to Dr. Rutger."
"Don't trust your friendly AC?"
"I'd like some clear space. I want to talk to Dr. Rutger."
"Dr. Rutger is busy, dear. Unlike your friendly AC, humans can only be in one place at a time. I'd like to help if I may."
"Then I want program sixteen."
"Done, Letitia." The projection wavered and the face changed to a real-person simulation of Marian Tempesino, the only CG AC Letitia felt comfortable with. Tempesino had no wirehash, which indicated she was a seldom-used program, and that was just fine with Letitia. "Sixteen here. Letitia? You're looking cut. More adjustment jams?"
"I wanted to talk with Dr. Rutger but he's busy. So I'll talk to you. And I want it on my record. I want out of school. I want my parents to pull me and put me in a special NG school."
Tempesino's face didn't wear any particular expression, which was one of the reasons Letitia liked Program 16 AC. "Why?"
"Because I'm a freak. My parents made me a freak and I'd like to know why I shouldn't be with all the other freaks."
"You're a natural, not a freak."
"To look like any of the others, even to look like Reena Cathcart, I'd have to spend the rest of my life in bioplasty. I can't take it anymore. They asked me to play an old lady in one of their dramas. The only part I'm fit for. An old lady."
"They tried to include you in."
"That hurt!" Letitia said, tears in her eyes.
Tempesino's image wavered a bit as the emotion registered and a higher authority AC kicked in behind 16.
"I just want out. I want to be alone," Letitia murmured.
"Where would you like to go, Letitia?"
Letitia thought about that for a moment. "I'd like to go back to when being ugly was normal."
"Fine, then. Let's simulate. Sixty years should do it. Ready?"
She nodded and wiped away more mascara with the back of her hand.
"Then let's go."
It was like a dream, somewhat fuzzier than plugging in a mod. CG images compiled from thousands of miles of old films and tapes and descriptive records made her feel as if she were flying back in time, back to a place she would have loved to call home. Faces came to her — faces with ugly variations, growing old prematurely, wearing glasses, even beautiful faces which could have passed today — and the faces pulled away to become attached to bodies. Bodies out of shape, overweight, sick and healthy, red-faced with high blood pressure — and in good condition. The whole variable and disaster-prone population of humanity, sixty years past. This was where Letitia felt she belonged.
"They're beautiful," she said.
"They didn't think so. They jumped at the chance to be sure their children were beautiful, smart, and healthy. It was a time of transition, Letitia. Just like now."
"Everybody looks alike now."
"I don't think that's fair," the AC said. "There's considerable variety in the way people look today."
"Not my age."
"Especially your age. Look." The AC showed her dozens of faces. Few looked alike, but all were handsome or lovely. Some made Letitia ache; faces she could never be friends with, never love, because there was always someone more beautiful and desirable than an NG.
"My parents should have lived back then. Why did they make me a freak?"
"You're developmentally normal. You're not a freak."
"I'm a DNG. Dingy. That's what they call me."
"Don't you invite the abuse sometimes?"
"No!" This was getting her nowhere.
"Letitia, we all have to adjust. Not even today's world is fair. Are you sure you're doing all you can to adjust?"
Letitia squirmed in her seat and said she wanted to leave. "Just a moment," the AC said. "We're not done yet." She knew that tone of voice. The ACs were allowed to get a little rough at times. They could make unruly students do grounds duty or detain them after hours to work on assignments usually given to computers. Letitia sighed and settled back. She hated being lectured.
"Young woman, you're carrying a giant chip on your shoulder."
"All the more computing power for me."
"Quiet, and listen. We're allowed to criticize policy, whoever makes it. Dignity of office and respect for superiors has not survived very well into century twenty-one. People have to earn respect. That goes for students, too. The average student here has four major talents, each of them fitting into a public planning policy which guarantees them a job incorporating two or more of those talents. They aren't forced to accept the jobs, and if their will falters, they may not keep those jobs. But the public has tried to guarantee every one of us a quality employment opportunity. That goes for you, as well. You're DNG, but you show as much intelligence and at least as many developable talents as the PPCs. You're young, Letitia, and your maturation schedule is a natural one — but you're not inferior or impaired. That's more than can be said for the offspring of some parents even more resistive than your own. You at least were given prenatal care and nutrition adjustment, and your parents let the biotechs correct your allergies."
"So for you, it's a matter of will. If your will falters, you won't be given any more consideration than a PPC. You'll have to choose secondary or tertiary employment, or even ..." The AC paused. "Public support. Do you want that?"
"My grades are up. I'm doing fine."
"You are choosing career training not matching your talents."
"I like medicine."
"And you're hard to get along with."
"Just tell them to lay off. I'll be civil ... but I don't want them treating me like a freak. Edna Corman called me ..." She paused. That could get Edna Corman into a lot of trouble. Among the students, TB was a casual epithet; to school authorities, applied to an NG, it might be grounds for a blot on Corman's record. "Not important."
The AC switched and Tempesino's face took a different counseling track. "Fine. Adjustment on both sides is necessary. Thank you for coming in, Letitia."
"I still want to talk with Rutger."
"Request noted. Please return to your class in progress."
"Pay attention to your brother when he's talking," Jane said. Roald was making a nuisance of himself by chattering about the preflight training he was getting in primary. Letitia made a polite comment or two, then lapsed back into contemplation of the food before her. She picked at it, put a half spoonful to her lips. Jane regarded her from the corner of her eye and passed a bowl of sugared berries. "What's eating you?"
"I'm doing the eating," Letitia said.
"Ha," Roald said. "Full load from this angle." He grinned at her, his two front teeth missing. He looked hideous, she thought. Any other family would have given him temporaries; not hers.
"A little more respect from both of you," said Donald. Her father took the bowl from Roald and scooped a modest portion into his cup, then set it beside Letitia. "Big fifteen and big eight." That was his homily; behave big whether eight or fifteen.
"Autocounselor today?" Jane asked. She knew Letitia too well.
"AC," Letitia affirmed.
"Did you go in?"
"I'm not tuned."
"Which means?" Donald ask.
"It means she hisses and crackles," Roald said, mouth full of berries, juice dripping down his chin. He cupped his hand underneath and sucked it up noisily. Jane reached out and finished the job with a napkin. "She complains," Roald finished.
Letitia shook her head.
The dessert was almost finished when Letitia slapped both palms on the table. "Why did you do it?"
"Why did we do what?" he father asked, startled.
"Why didn't you design us? Why are Roald and I normal?"
Jane and Donald glanced at each other and turned to Letitia. Roald regarded her with wide eyes, a bit shocked himself.
"Surely you know why by now," Jane said, looking down at the table, either nonplussed or getting angry.
Now that she had plotted her course, Letitia couldn't help but forge ahead. "I don't. Not really. It's not because you're religious."
"Something like that," Donald said.
"No," Jane said, shaking her head firmly.
"Your mother and I — "
"I am notjust their mother," Jane said.
"Jane and I believe there is a certain plan in nature, a plan we shouldn't interfere with. If we had gone along with most of the others and participated in the boy-girl lotteries and signed up for counseling — we would have been interfering."
"Did you go to a hospital when we were born?"
"Yes," Jane said, still avoiding their faces.
"That's not natural," Letitia said. "Why not let nature decide whether we'd be born alive?"
"We have never claimed to be consistent," Donald said.
"Donald," Jane said ominously.
"There are limits," Donald expanded, smiling placation. "We believe those limits begin when people try to interfere with the sex cells. You've had all that in school. You know about the protests when the first PPCs were born. Your grandmother was one of the protesters. Your mother and I are both NGs; of course, our generation has a much higher percentage of NGs."
"Now we're freaks," Letitia said.
"If by that you mean there aren't many teenage NGs, I suppose that's right," Donald said, touching his wife's arm. "But it could also mean you're special. Chosen."
"No," Letitia said. "Not chosen. You played dice with both of us. We could
Excerpted from Just Over the Horizon by Greg Bear. Copyright © 2016 Greg Bear. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Table of Contents
ContentsNewly Revised Stories,
A MARTIAN RICORSO,
SILICON TIMES E-BOOK REVIEW,
THROUGH ROAD NO WHITHER,
THE WHITE HORSE CHILD,
RICHIE BY THE SEA,