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Altered Humans
Prelude To The Pet Plague
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ISBN-10: 1-55404-219-4
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy/SF
eBook Length: 169 Pages
Published: February 2005
OUT OF PRINT

From inside the flap

Prelude To The Pet Plague

In a world where enhanced animals have altered the ecology beyond repair, the great protective enclaves are beginning to be built, but there will be no refuge there for altered humans, nor for normal humans trying to protect their enhanced pets. A woman with feline genes, bred for sex slavery. A man who kills to protect his pet. Two truckers who don?t care about laws designed for the cities. All are on the run across a surreal landscape where their odyssey takes them into the dangerous wilds, along roads and highways rapidly becoming impassable, and into cities where they have to live as outlaws. There is a chance for them to find a normal life if they can survive long enough to be accepted as immigrants to the moon. But only two of them can go, and only if they aren?t caught first. Altered Humans is a novel set in the days before the pet plague reaches its peak, where society is in flux, where survival is for the strong, but where goodness and generosity can still be found?if you don?t die first.



Altered Humans (Excerpt)


CHAPTER ONE

"Is that all you can find for him to watch?" Gary Daniels asked as the front door automatically closed behind him. He eyed the wall holo disgustedly. A life sized image of a conservatively dressed evangelist was striding back and forth, easily covering half the room. With his neat powder blue suit and silver white hair he should have looked distinguished. He didn?t. His dark, piercing eyes burned with fanaticism and he waved his arms around like a yeoman on the deck of a ship semaphoring a message to another ship. Gary didn?t even have to listen to know what the evangelist was preaching about. Enhanced animals and altered humans seemed to be the only subjects worthy of concern these days.

Gary’s wife turned away from the holographic scene playing out against the backdrop of a blank wall. "You should be watching it yourself, she said. Amelia Daniels was pretty. She wore her black hair in waves to her shoulders, matching the smartly tailored black jumpsuit she was wearing. She had a patrician face and a fine body, but her expression was sharp, almost feral. It distracted the eye and made one feel uncomfortable in her presence. Gary had always distained highly opinionated people, but by damn, here he was married to one. Somehow he didn?t remember her being like that until recently.

"You know I can?t stand those Bible-thumpers," he said.

"My father is a Bible-thumper, as you put it," Amelia said. Her eyes narrowed and her body tensed like a bird dog at point, ready to jump all over the next thing he said.

"Yeah, sorry."

Amelia relaxed slightly. "You should listen to my father. He could get you into another profession. You?d be better off and you know it. Genetic engineers aren?t very popular right now."

Gary knew it and didn?t feel like commenting. He came on into the den of their home and began making a drink under Amelia’s disapproving eye.

"I still have a job," he said. "Besides, genetics is all I know. What else could I do?"

This was a recurring argument and it always made him wonder why on earth Amelia had ever married him, or why he had married her for that matter. He blamed himself, thinking that he should have been more alert to the latent religiosity in her background, a state of mind completely alien to his own point of view. He should have paid more attention to her frequent mention of her father and his preoccupation with political groups opposed to genetic engineering, but he hadn?t. It all happened so fast. After the long years of concentrated study to receive his doctorate in mammalian genetics, he had been more than ready to break free from the grinding academic environment at the University of Houston. But the following two years had helped his social life precious little while he learned to turn theory into practice at the government research lab in Houston. The rising tide of public opinion against genetic manipulation of animals and humans kept his contacts confined to a small circle of co-workers and friends, neither of which contained women he was very interested in.

He met Amelia on a blind date and was immediately captivated by her beauty and sophistication. He followed in her wake like a leaf caught in a whirlwind as she drew him into the entertainment and cultural world of Houston Society. He was completely befuddled by her, and before he quite knew what was happening, he found himself married to her, only weeks after they had met and despite her father’s objections. In the six months that followed, his bemusement changed to a sharp awareness of just how little they had in common, and the awareness was compounded when she became a devout convert to her father’s fundamentalist beliefs. By now, only short months after the wedding, he was tiredly resigned to their differences. He should have known?oh hell, he just shouldn?t have married her in the first place. They had nothing in common, nothing at all since the initial lustful couplings. He was ready to call it quits, but in his typical non-confrontational manner, just hadn?t gotten around to it yet. He doubted that Amelia would object. She was becoming more and more involved with her father’s preaching, and whatever her motives had been for marrying him, they were subjugated now to her father’s beliefs.

Amelia spoke again, breaking his train of thought. "You may not have a job much longer. Bradshaw is going to win the election you know."

Gary grimaced, holding back an epithet.

"He will win, you know," Amelia insisted. Her eyes strayed back to the prancing preacher while her head nodded unconsciously in a gesture of agreement with his words. The evangelist was busy exhorting his audience to work and contribute to the campaign of Terrace Bradshaw for president of the United States and Canada. Bradshaw was campaigning on the promise to immediately shut down all government work in genetics other than essential agricultural studies.

She’s probably right, Gary thought. Bradshaw was far ahead in the polls and the election was only a week away. "I don?t have to work for the government, you know," he said. "There’s still private firms doing genetics in my line."

"They?re laying off, not hiring," Amelia said with smug finality. "And after the election?" She broke off as if she knew something he didn?t.

Gary had no answer for that. Unfortunately, what she said was true. Too many enhanced animals had escaped from owners and laboratories and begun breeding in the wild. More intelligent than their forebears, they were proving impossible to eradicate and in the meantime were ravaging crops and other wildlife, much more so in other parts of the world, but they had a toehold here now and were multiplying rapidly. This was especially true of the enhanced rats and mice and dogs and cats. They were creating havoc everywhere. There was already a total, though ineffective, ban on the importation of exotic enhanced or altered animals from South America where most of them originated, and the restrictions on domestic genetic engineering of mammals and humans were becoming onerous. In a deteriorating economy, and with feelings running so high against genetic engineers and their products, another job would be hard to come by. But damn it, he liked genetic engineering. He loved the manipulation of genes and chromosomes and the complex mathematics and physiology that went into the weaving of new characteristics into mammalian species. It was all he had ever wanted to do, and now it looked as if the whole profession was falling into an abyss of government restriction and public abhorrence. And his wife was on their side! He decided to change the subject.

"Is there anything to eat?"

"Don?t you remember? We?re going to Dad and Mom’s for dinner tonight. And don?t have another drink. You know how they feel about alcohol."

"I had forgotten," Gary admitted. In truth he had wanted to forget. A gathering at Deacon Pilkington’s place wasn?t his idea of a fun evening. Amelia had fostered the commitment on him in the after throes of sex a couple of weeks ago and he had conveniently put it out of his mind since then. He remembered now though, and knew that he and Amelia would be expected. Gary figured he had as many faults as the next man but breaking social engagements on short notice wasn?t one of them. He would rather have broken a promise to his cat.

"I?ll get dressed," he said resignedly. "Have you fed Booger Bear?"

"I?m not going near that blasphemous animal again! You should get rid of it. The neighbors are beginning to complain."

Gary doubted that. Few of them even knew he owned an enhanced cat, but he didn?t want to argue. He never did. His usual inclination was to listen politely, then go on doing whatever he thought was right. "Never mind," he said. "I?ll do it."

Booger Bear the cat was coal black and fluffy haired, with only a stub of a tail. He was short and stout, and the lack of a tail made him look remarkably like a small bear cub except for the large, high-domed forehead, essential in order to have room in his skull for enhanced intelligence and speech facility. Gary had bonded with him soon after birth, feeding him himself, and carrying him around in a detachable padded pocket that fit all of his jean jackets. He was well over a year old now and just learning to talk. Gary loved the little critter, and until his recent marriage to Amelia the fat, bouncy cat had been one of the focal points of his life.

The back room where Booger Bear lived was empty. Looking around, Gary saw that Amelia had been telling the truth about not going near the cat. The room was cluttered, unlike the rest of the house that she kept meticulously in order. The bed covers were rumpled and little pyramids of fabric stuck up in patterns where his claws had caught on it. Several objects that rightfully belonged on shelves were scattered on the floor.

Gary picked up a little figurine of a black wolf and another of a black ferret, two of the species he had worked on for his doctorate. He measured the distance from the floor to the shelf where the figurines belonged with his eyes and whistled softly. It would have been a good leap for a full grown cat, verifying the enhanced muscles in his genome. He replaced the objects then opened the back door and looked out.

A high fence enclosed the spacious yard. It contained low ornamental bushes and a fine carpet of no-grow grass. It also sported a small wading pond in the center, now given over to decorative fish.

Booger Bear was crouched at the edge of the pool, staring intently down into the still water. As Gary watched, a paw shot into the water with a loud smack. The cat jumped back as the water splashed. He looked at his wet, empty paw with feline amazement, then shook it disgustedly.

Gary laughed out loud. Booger Bear heard the laugh and came bounding up to him. He rubbed against Gary’s legs and began purring with a deep rumbling noise that sounded too loud for his size.

Gary reached down and rubbed his hand along the cat’s back. "Booger, if you?re going to take up fishing, you?re going to have to learn some physics first. Refraction, you know. The fish aren?t where you think they are."

"Re-frac-tion?"

"The light bends when it enters the water, like this." Gary demonstrated with an angled wrist.

"Why?" Booger asked, for all the world like a three year old child.

"It’s a natural law, Booger," Gary said.

That seemed to satisfy the cat though he really didn?t understand the explanation. He meowed and rolled onto his back, asking for a belly rub. Gary stroked the soft furry pelt covering his belly and tickled him on the insides of his hind legs. Booger Bear’s purrs increased in volume to a deep throaty roar.

"We?re going out for a while. Do you want to eat?"

"Eat liver?"

"Dream on, young man. I can?t afford liver for you every day. How about some nice, fish flavored protein?"

"No liver?"

"Sorry. It’s fish or nothing."

"Okay," Booger Bear agreed reluctantly. "Ride?"

"Sure." Gary stood up, bringing the cat with him. He draped Booger Bear over his shoulder in the cat’s favorite position. Booger Bear thought it was great fun to ride there, looking back over his human’s shoulder.

Gary took Booger Bear back to his room and fed him, then hurried to shower and change. He dressed in his usual fashion, jeans and jean jacket, casual shirt and soft leather boots. The boots were an anachronism since the introduction of thermometric footwear but he liked them. He tucked his little lasergun into a side pocket, ran a brush over his short brown hair and considered himself ready.

Amelia came into the bedroom just as he was finishing. She looked over his tall, lean figure critically while Gary waited. He knew that women found him attractive, with his high cheekbones and dark coloring reflecting an Amerindian ancestry, but what he didn?t know was that his honest sincerity put many of them off. In troubled times woman look toward strong, aggressive men, not the quiet intellectuals.

"Are you going like that?" She finally said.

Gary looked down at himself then back up at Amelia. "What’s wrong with the way I look? I always dress like this."

"Nothing, if you were going on a scavenger hunt. I suppose you?re carrying your gun, too?"

"You know I always do," Gary said. This was another point of contention between them. Most governments had long since given up trying to enforce any kind of gun laws, although many of them were still on the books. Gary always carried his little lasergun, rightly having little faith in police protection. The Houston Police Department had deteriorated to such a sad state that a call for help was likely to be heeded only when their own turf was threatened.

"Yes, I know," Amelia answered. "And you never use it. Not that you should. Violence never solves anything."

"It’s usually not necessary to pull a weapon so long as the other fellow knows you have one. If I had my way, I?d issue one to every responsible citizen in the city."

"I?m sure you would. Shall we go?"

Gary shrugged. "Let’s do it. I?m hungry."