Notes on Offworld Agriculture, Part 4

by Elena Clark
forum: Notes on Offworld Agriculture, Part 4
speculative fiction for the internet generation.

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Notes on Offworld Agriculture


Capital City, Pangea

           As I've said before, landing with a spaceship isn't much fun. You can't see anything, and the variations in the g-forces give you a headache. But once you disembark and go through Customs and Health it's much more interesting, especially in the case of Pangea.

           Pangea, like most of the planets around it, was settled a little less than a hundred years ago. Originally it was supposed to be a multi-cultural utopia, where everyone was free and equal and lived in harmony with nature, like people were supposed to have done back during prehistoric times. Only it didn't work out so well, and about fifty years ago someone named Hernan Diaz put together an army and held a coup. He was assassinated a year later but his wife Esmerelda took his place and ruled as supreme dictator for more than thirty years.

           Esmerelda had a lot of visions, most of which involved birds talking to her, so she started a cult worshiping birds. (I read all this in the brochure on the spaceship). She had a pet parrot she'd brought over from Earth, who had a bunch of baby parrots. Then she approached the New Jo-Burg Gene Extraction Facility about creating a race of super-parrots. Which they did. Then they started making all kinds of super-birds, which were unusually large, intelligent, hardy, long-living, etc. etc. Unlike all the other stuff I'd seen so far—the novoleni, the dragons, the fish-whales, the fruits and vegetables from Fischer Island—the birds weren't nutritious and didn't produce any useful enzymes or anything like that: they were just pets.

           When I came out of customs and into the main terminal, I almost walked into something that looked like an emu with peacock feathers. I jumped back, it jumped back, and the person behind me said, "Watch where you're going!" I was kind of afraid of the pea-emu or emu-cock or whatever it was, but it wandered off without paying any more attention to me, so I gathered up my things again and continued through the terminal.

           Just like the Fischer Island terminal had had fruits and vegetables everywhere, the Pangean terminal had birds everywhere. There were more of the pea-emus, ostriches, and regular peacocks and peahens roaming around loose, along with parrots and brightly-colored songbirds perched up in the rafters. The noise was incredible, especially when the peacocks suddenly started screeching. Also, I stepped in some bird droppings and smeared it all over my shoe. However, none of the emus came up and attacked me.

           I hadn't had much time to arrange my visit, but there was someone from the Worshipful Company of Bird Breeders there to meet me anyway. I wasn't sure what to think of someone who worked for the Worshipful Company of Bird Breeders, but she didn't seem too weird. Her name was Joanna and she had blond hair and light blue eyes and was kind of plump without being really fat. She wore loose slacks that didn't do much for her figure, though.

           "We're so glad you could finally make it," she said. "We were so sorry you had to pass us by earlier."

           I explained a little bit about New Arctica, although nothing really important, and mentioned the quarantine, which had just been lifted the day before.

           "Oh yes, the Divinity has been kind," she said. "The plague has been lifted from us."

           I said that was a good thing, and started thinking maybe Joanna was weirder than I'd originally thought.

           "We are so blessed to have you here," she said. "We hope you will be able to experience the blessing that comes from communion with our avian friends."

           I said that would be nice, and followed Joanna out of the terminal and into a small bright yellow car parked on the street. There was a canary in the car. This distracted me from all the extremely bright cars whizzing past us, and the holo-pictures of birds above every building.

           I went to sit in the front seat with the canary, but Joanna said it would be better if I sat in the back, so that Joy (the canary) could guide her more effectively. So I sat in the back. Joanna pulled out into traffic, and I began to see why she would want Joy's help to be as undiluted as possible, because everyone was driving very fast and very close and not paying attention to each other.

           Twenty hair-raising minutes later, Joanna pulled up to my hotel, which was a shiny skyscraper with movies on the outside walls of tropical birds flying around through tropical trees. There was a statue of a pea-emu by the door. The name over the door said The Regent's Rest. Over the front desk there was a more-than-life-sized still picture of the Regent Esmerelda and her parrot, with the words "Our Queen in Heaven" in English and Spanish underneath it.

           Joanna said she would be back in an hour to take me to dinner, and left me in the lobby. I took a clear glass elevator with a canary in it to my room on the 23rd floor. My room had canaries on the wallpaper, parrots on the bedspread, and peacocks on the shower curtain. The entertainment center could play a variety of bird noises "to bring guidance to my prayers," or show more scenes of birds flying around, for the same reason.

           There was a brochure on top of the entertainment system. I flipped through it. It suggested various aviaries to visit, and also told me canaries gave guidance in the physical world, parrots gave guidance in the spiritual world, emus gave you luck and strength, peacocks brought happiness, and so on. The new hybrids that had been developed on Pangea combined the traits of their original sources, so a peamu, for example, gave you happiness and luck, while a canarabudgie would give you good temper and guidance in the physical world. The brochure told me Pangean birds were also intelligent and friendly and made excellent pets, along with all their other benefits. It also said that every aviary had a temple you could visit to get more information on the spiritual aspects of Avianism. There was nothing about the New Johannesburg Gene Extraction Facility.

           Joanna came back to take me to dinner and said she was a non-ovarian and she hoped that wouldn't be a problem. I said I didn't think it would be, and asked what a non-ovarian was. It sounded like someone with a birth defect, but I didn't think that's what she meant.

           Joanna explained there was a schism in Pangean society between the ovarians and the non-ovarians. The ovarians believed eggs were the physical manifestation of the blessed nature of birds and consuming them brought you closer to the Divinity. The non-ovarians believed eggs were the physical manifestation of the blessed nature of birds and consuming them was an abomination in the sight of the Divinity. So Capital City was divided into ovarian and non-ovarian sections, each with their own restaurants, grocery stores, aviaries, schools, and so on. Joanna was a non-ovarian and was planning to take me to a non-ovarian restaurant.

           I said non-ovarian was fine, and we went down the glass elevator and out onto the street. It was warm and tropical. There were flowering trees on every street corner, and everything smelled of mimosas. Flocks of brightly-colored birds lived in every tree and twittered at us. Two peamus walked past us on the sidewalk and stepped out onto a crosswalk. All the traffic came to a screeching halt and let them proceed down the crosswalk to the far side of the street.

           "Do they often run around loose?" I asked, and Joanna said the peamus were considered to be especially sacred, so they were allowed to go wherever they wanted. She added that they knew when and how to cross the street, and accidents almost never happened.

           The restaurant, called The Parrot's Nest, served an entirely egg-free menu, and also had no chicken. In fact, it was mostly fruit and nuts. It was a low glass building with pictures of parrots on the menus and parrot movies on the walls. Joanna told me she preferred canaries but her mother was a parrot person and they'd come here a lot when she was little. Her mother worked at a nearby aviary, she said, and she hoped we could go visit it tomorrow.

           I said I would love to see an aviary, or several aviaries, and I also needed all the breeding records and genetic information on the bird lines they were hoping to export to Earth.

           "The birds are sacred," she said. "No harm can come from them."

           I said I was sure that was true, but it was Terran policy to look at the genetic makeup of everything exported to Earth.

           "It does no good to gaze too deeply into the works of the Divinity," she said.

           I said I had no intention of offending the Divinity, but I had to see those records. Joanna pointed out they'd already been given to the people at Novy Mir, who were real experts, unlike me, and I said I knew but I still had to see them, and the upshot was that she agreed to give me the breeding records from her mother's aviary when we went there in the morning, and see what she could do to persuade the other aviaries to hand over their records.

           "We mean no offense to the birds, Joanna, but we have to have those records," I said. "There are seven billion people on Earth, and who knows how many billion birds. Think what could happen to them if a disease slipped past our quarantine. It could be something that stays latent here on Pangea, but flourishes on Earth. The results could be terrible."

           Joanna said she could see my point, and Terran birds had to be protected, that was true, and Pangea did have a different ecosystem than Earth, even though it seemed a lot like Hawaii, and she promised to cooperate as much as possible, and we ate our fruit salads.

Communion With Our Avian Friends

           The next morning Joanna, Joy, and I drove over to the aviary where Joanna's mother worked, or, as Joanna put it, served. I didn't see any evidence that Joy did anything concrete to guide us there, but on the other hand we didn't crash into the bright green car that shot through a red light.

           The aviary had a high screen of palms, mimosas, and other tropical-looking trees I assumed were native plants, all grown over with what looked like flowering wisteria. The smell of mimosa and wisteria made me homesick. The parking lot was also surrounded by a similar screen. There were only half a dozen cars in the lot. Everything seemed much quieter and less glaringly bright, although the flowers and the birds were plenty vivid.

           We entered the aviary through an arch covered in wisteria, and started down a path. I had the impression of lots of greenery. I couldn't see through the plants to other pathways or any other part of the facility. Parrots flashed in the trees and darted here and there, making screeching calls. A peamu came stalking down the walkway, and we stepped to the side and let it pass unhindered.

           At what I guessed was the center of the garden we came to a pool with a fountain in the shape of a parrot in the middle of it, with water coming out of its open beak. Someone who looked a lot like Joanna was sitting on the concrete edge of the pool with a huge red-and-green parrot on her arm. The woman was talking to the parrot.

           Joanna came to stop a few paces away, and we waited until the woman was done. Then she went forward and said, "Hi, Mom."

           We went through the introductions. Joanna's mother, whose name was Samantha, asked me how I liked Pangea and the birds, and I told her it was very pretty. Then she put the parrot on my arm. She—it was a female, named Anthea—had large scaly talons that gripped hard, and she was heavy enough my arm got tired right away from holding her.

           Samantha said she was so happy I was there and would be able to experience the blessing one received when communing with our avian brothers and sisters. She said spreading the word of the Divinity to Earth was her main purpose in life. I said that was nice and would she mind showing me the birds, and also their breeding records, merely as a formality, of course.

           Samantha said she would be delighted, so for the next two hours we toured around the aviary and I saw more parrots, parakeets, peamus, and other birds I didn't recognize, than I could possibly count. Then she took me to see Leah Jones, the head of the aviary.

           Leah used to be blonde before she turned gray. She had a vague friendly smile and a gentle handshake. She said she'd heard I was coming and she was so glad to see me. I asked if I could have the breeding records, and she frowned and asked me why. I said it was merely a formality, just part of the procedure. I said I'd been very impressed with the birds, who had struck me as very beautiful and intelligent, and I thought they would be very popular on Earth. Leah said sure I could have the breeding records, and I uploaded them onto my Perdie. I said thank you very much and Joanna and I left, throwing some coins in the wishing well by the entrance on the way out.

           Then Joanna said we should go see the canary aviary, and I said sure, and so we went. The traffic still scared me, and I was glad to pull off the main road and into the parking lot, which was screened by trees just like the other one. The canary aviary was also full of trees and narrow pathways, like a secret garden. The canaries were much smaller than the parrots, but they didn't screech so horribly, so that was an improvement. Several people were kneeling by the edge of the pool in the middle. Joanna went right over and knelt down next to them, and motioned me to join her, so I did.

           No one said anything, but everyone had their eyes closed and their hands folded, so I copied them, only I kept one eye cracked half-open so I would know when to get up. I assumed everyone was praying for guidance, so I prayed for guidance on what to do about Draconia, Fischer Island, the problems on New Africa, the fish-whales, and so on. I would have felt better about it if I hadn't been addressing my prayers to a bunch of canaries.

           After a while Joanna and I got up and we walked away from the pool and sat on a bench in an alcove surrounded by trees full of singing canaries. None of them tried to attack us or seemed to notice us at all.

           "I feel so refreshed; do you feel refreshed?" asked Joanna.

           I said I felt refreshed. I didn't say that my knees hurt terribly from digging into the gravel for what must have been at least a quarter of an hour. Joanna said she was glad I'd gotten to have that experience, and I said I was glad too. Then I asked if I could have the breeding records for the canaries, since, I said, they would probably be incredibly popular back home. So Joanna took me to see Kevin, the head of the aviary. He was remarkably similar to Leah. I uploaded the canary breeding records, and we left.

           After that we had lunch (seed cakes), and after that we went to a peamu breeding facility outside of Capital City.

           The peamu breeding facility had a lot more barns and fewer trees than the aviaries, but it wasn't like a factory farm. The head breeder explained they had been genetically designed not to be subject to normal breeding impulses, so all the breeding had to be done for them in vitro. She said some people saw this as a sign of purity and believed humans must try to emulate the peamus by adhering to strict rules of chastity, but other people saw this as a big weakness because it meant the peamus were dependent on humans for the propagation of their race, and they would be better representatives of strength and luck if they could reproduce on their own.

           I thought at least we could be pretty sure they wouldn't start taking over the world if they did come to Earth, but I didn't say that. Instead I asked if they were more like peacocks or emus, behavior-wise, and how the enhanced intelligence had been caused.

           "You see," said the breeder, whose name was Carrie, "for centuries and centuries breeding for color has been a mystery, as I'm sure you know. Even when other traits could be predicted fairly accurately—size, strength, speed, and so on—color was still very hard to control. There're just so many factors affecting it. One of the main reasons the New Jo-Burg facility was—and is—so good was that they were the first to be able to find, mark, isolate, and transplant the right combination of genes with a high degree of success. Anyone could have combined the DNA from Terran reptiles and the native fauna from Draconia and made some kind of creature, but only the scientists at New Jo-Burg could make real dragons, and real dragons that were green."

           I agreed their results had been very impressive, especially considering how little time it took to achieve them.

           "So, with the peamus," Carrie continued, "they were able to identify exactly which combination of genes caused the peacock color patterns, extract them, and implant them into emu ova and sperm in place of the ordinary color genes. They were also able to cause peacock coloration in both male and female emus. And all of this with an extremely low rate of non-viable eggs or biological sports."

           I asked how common sports were, and how they had manifested themselves, and Carrie told me they had only had two sports in the past ten years and both of them had simply been ordinary emu-colored emus, nothing more sinister than that. Then I asked how the high intelligence had been achieved, and Carrie said something about dolphin DNA.

           "Dolphin DNA?" I said.

           "Dolphins are very intelligent," she told me, sounding slightly defensive. "They possess many of the qualities we wanted in our birds: cleverness, but also a sense of fun and a lack of malice."

           I agreed those were good qualities, and then Carrie toured me around.

           The breeding facilities were ordinary labs, very white and clinical. Then we went to an incubation barn, which had lots of eggs on tables under lamps. Unlike the dragon eggs, these were not in cages. Then we went to the baby barn and saw lots of baby peamus looking sad and featherless, although they did open their mouths when they saw us and fix us with stares surprisingly like the stares of baby humans.

           "The adults are free to come and go as they will," Carrie told us. "They have run-in sheds for shelter, and they are given free range of the rest of the facilities, except for the labs, which are restricted to everyone, humans included. They stay with us until someone provides a home for them, or they decide to go off on their own. If we go to the orchard we should find several of them feeding."

           And sure enough, when we came into the orchard there were at least a dozen of them. Some were pulling fruit off the trees, some were scratching at the ground, and some were sunbathing. Carrie led us over to a nearby one that was digging in the ground. When we reached it, it held out a claw towards us, showing us a grub it had found.

           "How nice," said Carrie enthusiastically. "No thanks, you go ahead and eat it." The peamu swallowed down the grub.

           We stopped and spoke with some of the peamus who were foraging from the trees. They all offered us fruit, which we declined. Other than that they paid very little attention to us, and after a while most of them wandered off and left us, and we went back to the lab.

           "That was so wonderful," said Joanna. "A real blessing."

           "Yes," agreed Carrie, "I feel so blessed to spend so much time around them."

           I said they were wonderful creatures, and asked if I could have their breeding records. I said my piece about how this was just standard procedure and everyone had to do it in order to be able to export to Earth and I was sure everything would work out fine and they sure were wonderful animals and no doubt they'd be a big hit back home, and Carrie finally said I could upload the information from her workstation.

           Carrie's workstation had a P-to-P (Percy to Perdie) wireless connection, meaning I didn't have to plug my Perdie in to upload everything. So while Carrie and Joanna talked, I set up the connection and got everything onto my Perdie. Then I thanked Carrie and we left.

           Joanna offered to take me to The Parrot's Nest for supper again, but I said thank you very much but I was tired and had a lot of work to do, so I'd just have supper in the hotel restaurant, which I did. Again, nothing with eggs or any kind of bird flesh. I think everything was made out of soy. It was a lot better than the seed cakes.

Intelligence Improvements in Ratites

           I read the information on the aviary breeding lines over dinner, and found out absolutely nothing interesting at all. My Perdie was running low on power when I went back to my room, so I plugged it in to power back up while I took a shower.

           In the middle of my shower everything suddenly went dark and the water stopped running. Then it all came back on again. I leaped out of the shower, ran over to my Perdie, and checked its contents. Everything I had already read was still in the Saved Reading file, but the data on the peamus, which was in the To Be Read file, was gone. This is a problem that cheap Perdies like mine often have.

           I dried off feeling very annoyed with PRDTech, but then I remembered the P-to-P connection I'd set up with Carrie's workstation. It should still work from the other side of the city. Of course, Carrie hadn't given me permission to re-access her system, but I decided that since she'd let me do it once without making me set up a one-time connection, I could do it again, and besides I wanted that information and I was afraid she might rethink letting me take it if I had to ask her again.

           The P-to-P connection still worked. It was an all-access connection, meaning I could look at anything in Carrie's workstation. I couldn't remember exactly how to find the file I wanted, so I ran a search and came up with several files on breeding records. I thought about it for a moment and then uploaded all of them onto my Perdie.

           The hotel had an Info&Comm room with lots of workstations and printers, so I went down and printed off everything I'd gotten from Carrie's workstation, so I could compare it side-by-side and make notes. I ended up with a lot of paper, which was kind of discouraging, but it wasn't very late yet.

           That evening I skimmed through all the files I'd printed off. Most of them were straight genealogical records of the breeding lines, which I decided probably weren't that important unless I found something somewhere else that suggested otherwise. But there were two files of information about the original project the New Johannesburg Gene Extraction Facility had been commissioned to do, with descriptions of the original failures, the final success, and all the genetic combinations they'd tried.

           I thought it was interesting there were two files that appeared to be identical, but by then the print seemed awfully small and I was getting awfully tired, so I decided to go to bed and read them in the morning.


           The next morning I put the two print-outs next to each other on my table and compared them line-by-line. For a while nothing interesting showed up, but then I got to the section labeled "Intelligence Improvements in Ratites."

           Printout 1 showed a list of attempts to insert dolphin DNA into emu genes, with a number of failures followed by the one necessary success. This was very normal for any kind of genengineering; I'd read loads of reports like this. Normally it took just one tiny, tiny manipulation to make a non-viable cell viable, or to get the desired result. In this case the problem had not been non-viable cells, but that the extra intelligence had either not appeared or had had unwanted side-effects, like aggression or mental disturbances.

           Printout 2, however, showed in tiny print that the last, successful attempt had been made using a very, very small amount of the human gene code combined with the dolphin DNA.

           As of course everyone knows, Earth has a blanket ban on mixing human DNA with any non-human DNA. A couple of centuries back people found they could often get good results from combining human and non-human genetic material, but then other people started to worry about the consequences and in the end it was banned and it's never been allowed since then. Possible side effects in this case being the transfer of specifically avian diseases to humans, for example.

           I packed the printouts in my suitcase while asking myself why Carrie had had it on her computer. Wasn't she worried about people like me coming across it? Then I reminded myself Carrie was responsible for choosing the breeding pairs, and she would need to know their true genetic makeup in order to do that. Still, it seemed very careless to me. But in the few years I'd been working as an ag inspector I'd come across lots of examples of carelessness, so I decided not to be too surprised, just grateful. As anyone who's ever done any investigation knows, a lot of the time you just have to rely on dumb luck and the mistakes of others.

           My big worry was that Carrie would find out about me accessing her files and cause some kind of a problem so that I couldn't leave Pangea, so after I packed up the printouts I went ahead and packed up the rest of my stuff and checked out of the hotel. I thought I saw Joanna coming in one door of the lobby as I was going out the other, so I walked quickly down the street and stopped a taxi on the corner and had it take me to the spaceport.

           At the spaceport I realized I didn't know where to go to next, and I had to leave Pangea immediately, because if Joanna and Carrie and their bosses hadn't suspected me of anything before I left, they would now, so I ran to the Info&Comm room and paid an astronomical amount of money to be put through on a live call to Senator Bryson. His secretary tried to convince me he was too busy to talk to me without an appointment, so I had to shout at her a little bit and say it was an emergency, and she finally put me through.

           Senator Bryson seemed kind of surprised and not very pleased to have my videoed face burst in on him, but when I told him I needed to leave right away, it was very important, and I couldn't say more right now but I'd tell him everything when I got a chance (I was afraid they were monitoring calls, not that they're supposed to do that), he said he'd heard things were going from bad to worse on Draconia, and I should go there.

           I left the call booth and went to the ticket screen, where I found out I could catch a shuttle flight to Fischer Island leaving in two hours, spend the night there, and then catch another shuttle flight to Draconia. I bought the tickets and ran to the shuttle gate. I was glad I hadn't brought a lot of luggage, because the printouts were heavy.


           Shuttle flights aren't very much fun. All you get is a small seat, like on a jet. The pressure and gravity changes are pretty bad, too.

           I didn't throw up, though, and once everything got stabilized I sent a long report to Senator Bryson, along with copies of both sets of breeding records. He wrote back and said that was great, in a negative way, and after I went to Draconia I should go to Novy Mir and give everything I had to the people there, and by the way a search had been launched for me on Pangea, and when it had been discovered that I had left, a protest had been lodged against me and they were requesting that Fischer Island return me to them along with everything I had with me. He said so far Fischer Island was refusing to cooperate, which was something you could pretty much always count on with them, so hopefully I wouldn't be extradited back to Pangea.

           I worried about that for the next 17 hours, but there was no one there to meet me at the spaceport, and no one stopped me from catching a taxi to Fischer City and checking into a hotel. No one I knew or didn't know came to me that evening or the next morning. At the spaceport before taking off I bought some freeze-dried purple grapefruits and nutritionally enhanced zucchini, which I was hoping to give to the people at Novy Mir, and then I took off and spent the next 22 hours thinking about leg cramps and blood clots and trying to get some sleep.

DragonFarmsInc, Part 2

           Draconia was the same as I remembered—hot, and full of life, but none of it friendly. This time I landed at the Pole, which is where people preferred to live because of the cooler climate, and flew down to the equator. Out of the jet window I saw the savannahs and the animals that lived in them. From that height they looked like every child's dream of dinosaurs, or dragons. I did not know what they were really like, or how they thought, or how they felt about the dragon farms, or the dragons. Whose nature was it that had made #6 swallow Alan DeWitte whole—theirs, or the Terran reptiles with whom their genetic material had been mixed?

           Arnold Jackson met me at the jetport.

           "You came back," he said.

           I said yes I had, and remarked on his cane.

           "Goddamn #6," he said.

           "I'd heard there were more disturbances," I said. "More dragons getting loose."

           "Goddamn dragons," he said, limping to the truck. "I don't know what's gotten into them. They were never what you could call sweet-tempered, but now... Two more broke out of their barns at Two, we've had all kinds of trouble at One, and they've had killings at Three. We're talking about putting them all down."

           We drove down the narrow road from the jetport to DragonFarm1. The insects were very loud, and the jungle was a thick green wall.

           "I have to tell you, I think you coming here is a bad idea," said Arnold as we pulled up to the farm. "The last thing we need right now is some Terran investigator poking her nose in."

           "Have you pulled up the breeding records?" I asked.

           He told me they had, but he didn't see how that would do any good, and would I please for the love of God stay out of the barns and out of everybody's way and not cause any trouble, because they had to do two takedowns that afternoon, both of animals that were really getting out of hand, and he didn't want me getting in the way and getting hurt.

           He wanted to abandon me as soon as we got out of the truck, saying, "you remember where your room was? Good, go there," but I made him give me access to the breeding records first. He said, "I don't have time for this," when I asked.

           "I wasn't sent all the way from Earth to sit in my room," I told him. "Just show me how to get them."

           He said he had important things to do, but eventually he found someone to show me to the data room, and I was able to upload everything I needed onto my Perdie. Then my escort abandoned me, saying he had to help with the takedowns, and I went to my room.

           My room overlooked the barns, so even though I didn't want to, I ended up watching out the window as half a dozen men in protective equipment went into Barn 10. Barn 10, according to the information I now had on my Perdie, housed a wingless green female just reaching breeding age (five Terran years, or four Draconian years). Her sire was from a new line that had been developed here on Draconia. Its foundation sire was a genetic combination of grass snake, iguana, and native, and it had been designed to produce beautiful green hide.

           #10's dam was from the original line that had been created back in New Africa, from a combination of black snake, rattlesnake, komodo dragon, and native DNA. It was a very versatile line and was often bred to others.

           There was a whole lot of commotion in Barn 10, although no dragons came bursting out through the roof, and then there were several shots from something much bigger than a deer rifle, and a definite thud I could sense even up in my third-story room, and then the men in protective equipment came out and another half a dozen men in rubber aprons and rubber boots went in.

           The takedown men came into the house. I could hear them walking around downstairs, eating, drinking, and talking about how #10 had been a real bitch of a takedown, and had gone right through the middle divider of the barn and almost gotten Ben.

           Ben said he'd checked and his pants weren't brown yet, but it had been a close thing, and when they did #16 could he please be up in the observation post.

           Arnold Jackson said sure, although with the way she'd lunged and reared he didn't think there was anyplace safe, and added that she'd died hard and he hoped she didn't slice someone in the cleanup crew open with a reflex kick. Then he said they'd had enough fun and it was time to go out and take care of #16, and I heard them all troop out.

           I looked up #16 on my Perdie. He was a green winged male, venomous. His dam was full sister to #10. So I looked up his dam. There was a note in her file saying she had been unusually aggressive from the egg, and had been slaughtered a year early because of her difficult temperament. Despite this, her eggs had been harvested and used for breeding, because of her large size, fine color, and potent venom.

           I couldn't see Barn 16 from my window, but I could see how all the barns within my field of vision shook as the dragons became agitated. Except for Barn 10. Finally there were the shots that meant it was all over, and then Arnold Jackson and the rest of the takedown crew came inside, talking loudly.

           "I swear to God, they get worse every day," said someone.

           "That son of a bitch lunged at me after he'd been shot," said someone I thought was Tom Massino, DF1's second shooter. "Did you see that? He was lying there, big hole in his chest, blood everywhere, and when I went over to check if he was dead, he snapped at me and damn near bit me."

           "So he wasn't dead then," said someone, and everyone laughed.

           "He is now though, or if he isn't after I shot him in the eye, he will be after the cleanup crew's done with him," Tom Massino said with satisfaction, and everyone laughed again.

           I waited a little while to see if anyone would come up for me, but no one did, so I went back to my Perdie.

           I found out #6 from DF2 was a first cousin to the #16 that had just been taken down today. I also found out, after more than an hour of painstaking research and notetaking, that all the dragons who had exhibited unusual aggression and behavioral oddities had been part of the original line created on New Africa. This was not a big surprise but it was nice to see it right there in green Perdie-screen letters.

           No one came up to offer me supper, so eventually I went down and searched around until I found Arnold Jackson and the rest of the takedown crew sitting in the kitchen and drinking beer.

           "There you are," said Arnold, unusually jolly. "Sit down and have a drink. Boys, this is the Terran I was telling you about."

           All the boys looked at me. I said hi and that I was looking for something to eat, and Tom Massino and someone who turned out to be Ben got up and said they'd fix supper for all of us. It would have been just like on a farm back home, except that the spots of blood the men had on their clothes had a more chemical-ly smell than cow or pig blood.

           "So, where have you been, Earthling?" said Arnold Jackson, and laughed. I realized he was a good way towards being drunk.

           I named the various places I'd been. Arnold said he'd heard the Islanders were terrible backbiters and fighters, and it was a wonder anything ever got done there at all. Tom said he'd heard there was some kind of crazy rebel movement there, which just goes to show what kind of a place it was.

           "Well, you know what they say about you," I said. "They say you're breeding fighting dragons in order to take over Earth with them."

           Arnold Jackson and several of the others laughed loudly.

           "What kind of nuts do they think we are?" said Arnold. "We've got enough problems without breeding them mean on purpose. And how're we supposed to get them there—ride on their backs as they fly there? There's no spaceship in the galaxy that could hold enough full-grown dragons to make a difference."

           Those arguments against Joshi's claim had occurred to me too, but I was glad to hear them from Arnold. I ate my dinner and listened to the men talk, satisfied that they, at least, did not appear to be conspiring to overthrow Earth.


           The next day I was shown some the fertilization facilities, although my tour was cut short by the sudden need to take down two more dragons who had gone crazy. The day after that the president of DragonFarmsInc arrived to see what all the trouble was about.

           The president of DragonFarms looked sort of like a drawing of a dragon in a story, with a long face like that of a predatory horse, although not like the real dragons, who had heads more like a pit viper's. His name was Joshua Epstein, and he was not happy with what was happening.

           "What the hell is going on here?" he demanded as soon as he came into the house. Arnold Jackson had brought him into the kitchen and was trying to convince him to have a cup of coffee after the long flight and drive. Joshua Epstein lived at the Pole with all the rest of the DragonFarms executives.

           "And who the hell is she?" he demanded, pointing at me and shaking his head at coffee.

           Arnold Jackson explained who I was.

           "Well get her the hell out of here," said Joshua Epstein. "The last thing we need is some Terran inspector poking around while we're in the middle of a crisis situation."

           Even though this was what Arnold Jackson had said two days earlier, now he tried to argue that kicking me out would only make things worse as far as Terran relations were concerned.

           "I'm sick to death of goddamn Terrans always hassling us and interfering with our business," said Joshua Epstein. "Sorry, hon: I'm sure you're a nice girl and all, but right now you've got to go." Somehow I was sure he wasn't calling me by my name.

           Arnold and the others argued, but the end result was that I was going to get hustled off Draconia the second time even faster than I had the first. Joshua said I should take his shuttle back to the Pole, where I could catch a space ship to Novy Mir the next day.

           As I was packing my things, Tom Massino came into my room.

           "Look, Honey," he said, and this time I was sure he was using my name, "some of us, we feel bad about how you keep getting kicked off the planet like this. It's not your fault or anything, so we wanted to try and make it up to you a little bit."

           "Wow, thanks," I said.

           "Yeah, so we got you this." He handed me a bundle the size of a folded raincoat. I unfolded it. It was about a meter square. It was an iridescent scaly green, so rippling with reflected light it hurt the eyes.

           "It's a piece of hide from #10," said Tom. "We though you might like it. And we were hoping... We were kind of hoping you could put in a good word for us, back on Earth. Things don't look like they're going too good over here."

           "Sure," I said, folding up the hide and putting it in my suitcase. "I could do that."

Novy Mir

           Even after everything I'd seen, I was excited about going to Novy Mir. On the way out we'd stopped at the Moon instead, so I'd never been on a big space station before. I'd seen lots of pictures of it, but walking up and down its actual corridors would be much better, I was sure.

           One way it was different from a planet was that the shuttle had to approach it slowly. We could keep the shutters up on the windows during this, so we got to see it as we came close. It looked like something you'd build out of modules from a kid's building kit, and also kind of worn—I could see scars and scratches from space dust and tiny meteors. Each module had Novy Mir written on one side and on the other.

           We docked gently and got off. At Customs & Health I told the officials who I was and that I had all kinds of possible contraband in my suitcase. They took away my luggage and made me sit in a little alcove for a long time before someone came for me.

           "Ms. Tremaine?" he said.

           I said yes and stood up. He told me he was Avram Osipov, and we'd communicated several times during my travels.

           "You can leave now," he told me. "I asked, that they gave me all your luggage. Come with me now."

           I followed him down the narrow corridors of Novy Mir, which had windows showing the stars and the Moon and Earth, just like I'd imagined. He brought me into a cramped room that looked like a mixture of a lab, an office, and a sitting room.

           "Tea?" he asked, and without waiting for me to say yes, turned on his water boiler. He brought out two glasses in fancy metal holders and put tea leaves in them. Then he said, "I asked, that they gave me all your things, Ms. Tremaine: all your data, all the things you brought back. I already started analyzing it. I can tell you my first results tomorrow. But I can say today that the human DNA is very important. It explains the changes in the behavior of the animals. You know, humans learn very fast. They also are very aggressive, and, ah, they protect their territory very hard, and their young. That's what these animals do. Also, I tell you what I think. I think the guys at New Jo-Burg had to use very strong mutagens in order to make their experiments work. You know, they were under a lot of pressure. They spent a lot of money on their facility, and they had to get results. So they did things not so safe. But they got their dragons and their fish-whales and their birds, and no one said, 'This is wrong.' This is what I think."

           I agreed it was very possible, and we talked about the birth defects in Little Cape Town. Avram got very excited and said he wanted to go there and do tests on the people. I wished him luck but thought I probably wouldn't want to go with him. Then he said I should get some rest and showed me to my room and told me he'd tell me what he'd found tomorrow.


           Around midmorning the next day Avram came to my room, looking kind of haggard. He said he'd been up all night, analyzing samples from the dragon hide and the fish-whale roe and then running the results through his computer, searching for human DNA. He'd just found it, he said, very excited, and he'd sent the preliminary results to a whole bunch of important people, including Joshua Epstein from DragonFarms.

           "Oh no," I said. "He won't be happy."

           And I was right, because that afternoon representatives from DragonFarms came to visit me in my room. They told me they had let me onto their planet in good faith and I'd misused their trust, and I said I was sorry but that was the way things were, and they said I had no right to use stuff I'd stolen from them, and I said they might want to worry a little less about patent infringement and a little more about being eaten by dragons. Then they went away. Then a little later I got a call from Senator Bryson. I recorded it, so this is it pretty much exactly.

           "I hear you and Avram Osipov have caused quite a fuss, Ms. Tremaine," he said.

           "I thought that was what you wanted," I said.

           "Well, not exactly... To be honest, what I wanted was a reason to keep Fischer Island exports out. That's what we have to worry about, as far as competition is concerned. But not the dragons. I don't want any proof against the dragons."

           "The dragons eat people," I said. "Not that I blame them. But they're not very nice."

           "The dragons save lives," he said. "Do you know how many people take medication made out of dragon venom, dragon-muscle enzymes? Five hundred million people used some kind of DragonFarms product today, for blood clots, strokes, heart disease... You know all this as well as I do."

           "Yes," I said. "I do. And I also know human DNA has been combined with non-human genetic material in direct defiance of Article II of the International Treaty on Genetic Engineering. And I know the dragons are becoming smarter and more aggressive. Who knows what will happen when they break loose and join up with the native animals on Draconia. And the same could be said for the fish-whales on New Arctica. Or the birds on Pangea. And I don't know what to say about the food from Fischer Island. And the workers at the New Johannesburg Gene Extraction Facility have been having malformed children for decades as a result of their 'life-saving' work."

           "We can't lose the New Jo-Burg facility," he said. "Did you know they're working on a gene therapy for degenerative diseases and damage of the brain and nervous system right now? And they're almost to the point of success. Imagine a life where we didn't have to worry about nerve or brain damage ever again."

           "Brain damage is bad," I said. "Having a child with no arms or legs is also bad."

           "We'll figure something out," he said. "We'll find a way to protect the workers, and to modify the dragons and everything else so they aren't so dangerous. Just give us some time."

           "How much time?" I asked.

           He eventually said something about a year. To get the process started. Of course, it would take a while for any reforms to take effect. So it might be several years. It sounded like a long time, of course, but really it wasn't that long, and anyway it wasn't like we had a crisis situation anyway...

           "Oh, okay," I said. "I guess that's reasonable."

           "So why don't you just come home now, Honey?" he said. "I'm sure everyone is missing you back home, and you must be pretty homesick yourself by now. And after all your hard work, not to mention traveling around, I think you've earned a promotion, don't you? I'm sure we can find you a suitable position in Nashville, something where you don't have to spend so much time slogging through cow farms."

           I said I'd have to think about it, and then he said he hoped I understood that of course everything I'd done offworld, including this conversation, was of course confidential and I shouldn't talk about, for so many reasons, like patent infringement, national and international security, and so on and so forth. I said I understood, and then he ended the call.

           I left the Info&Comm room and wandered around until I found Avram, who had just gotten up from a short nap in order to continue his experimenting. I found out he was the senior researcher for the Imports&Exports division, that he preferred to work alone rather than with research assistants, that he was originally from Ufa but had spent a lot of time on Kalininskaya, and that he'd just finished performing a test on his own blood and semen, and discovered no metaplastic tendencies in his ordinary cells, but what looked like possible mutations in the X chromosomes of his sperm cells, so he planned to take some more samples and run more tests right away. Despite the fact that I'd spent most of my life around AI and in vitro fertilization, I didn't want to ask him how he was planning to do this. Instead I told him about my meeting with the people from DragonFarms.

           "Oh, them." He frowned. "They came to me too." He frowned some more. "They made threats. And my boss doesn't want me to tell anyone about what I found, about the human DNA in the dragons."

           "Mine doesn't either," I told him.

           "I don't pay attention to my boss very much," he told me. "I'm supposed to be
independent on Novy Mir; that's why I work here instead of somewhere else. We're supposed to be able to do science without anyone pressing on us. That's why we have a research station in space. I think people need to know. I think you should tell them too. Have you written anything down about what you found?"

           I told him I had my reports, and notes and letters, and he said I should put them together into something coherent. I told him about being supposed to move back to Nashville, and he said I should stay on Novy Mir for a while. So I did.


           When I wrote this I was still on Novy Mir. I don't know where I'll be when you read this. Like I said at the beginning, I think people should know what's going on out there. There's also a much more technical report Avram and I wrote up together. Right now he's in Little Cape Town, doing research. He was very excited because he discovered that the number of boys with birth defects to girls was 6 to 1. His current theory is that some of the mutagens used at the New Jo-Burg Facility to manipulate the human DNA damaged the X chromosomes of the workers there. Most of the mutations (he thinks) are recessive, which is why they're so much more likely to appear in boys.

           The people from DragonFarms continued to harass us until they got sent away from Novy Mir. I have to say I enjoyed seeing someone else kicked off for a change. Last I heard they'd had to put down all the dragons on Draconia.

           An analysis of the grapefruit and zucchini I brought back from Fischer Island showed tiny amounts of human DNA in them, too, although there's no conclusive evidence yet whether or not they are harmful. The birds from Pangea haven't caused any problems either. But last week the fish-whales on New Arctica joined up with schools of native fish-creatures and attacked some places on the coast. The Station was completely destroyed. I don't know what happened to all the people in it.

           Well, that's about it for now. I'll keep you informed if we find out anything else.

Honey Tremaine




copyright 2006 Elena Clark.

Elena Clark:

I have had the privilege to engage in a fast-paced and lucrative career of animal and child care, with occasional forays into food service and administrative assistance. I am also abnormally over-educated. I currently live in North Carolina.

Previous publication credits: 1st place, novella division, Bardic Tales and Sage Advice, 2005

Reader's Choice, Flash Fiction, Bewildering Stories Contest 2

Also, my short story "Witch Light" will appear in the October issue of Worlds of Wonder

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