"Ivan, please," Doctor Simon von Monkenstein pleaded. "I’m a scientist, not a revolutionary. I won’t help you with whatever mad plan you’ve come up with this time."
"Some scientist! You’re ruining your reputation with this Venus terraforming project. It’s not going to work."
"It will work." Simon frowned, "I know what everyone has been saying, but the magnetic anchors do work. We’ve shown that in small scale tests. The high atmospheric ramscoop is merely larger. And the field tests have shown some very interesting magnetic/gravitic field interactions. The next phase…"
"No." Ivan threw out a hand, "No lecture." He curled his hand back towards himself. "Join us. We need you. We need our own schools." He pointed at Simon. "You are turning your back on your own people."
"What people! We’re an experiment. A failed experiment." He leaned back in his chair, arms crossed. Rejecting advances.
"Simon." His visitor leaned forward in his chair. "You are not a human. You are one of us, no matter how many university degrees you have."
"I know." Simon ran his hands through his short reddish hair, then stared at them. Longer than a human’s, shorter than a chimp’s. A strong thumb, like a human’s. "But we’re not chimpanzees either. The Davis Foundation may have started with chimp genes, but they shuffled them around into human order and changed a lot of the regulatory genes into identical copies of human genes." And what you are is a whole other question. Are the rumors right?
"None the less, there’s not a single human derived gene in any of us. Not a single one." insisted his visitor, as if he had read Simon’s mind. "That’s why they can treat us like this." Ivan D. Terrible was at once completely familiar and weirdly different from the admired mentor of Simon’s teen years. "We won’t be given our rights. We have to take them. We have to show the humans that we are intelligent, we have to show them that we are…"
"A biological dead end." interrupted Simon. "Do we also have to show them that our natural reproductive processes often rejects the synthetic genes and our children are born crippled or retarded? If they live." He looked away. His only child had been a reject with an ultimately fatal heart defect." We have to be cloned, we can’t reliably reproduce on our own."
Ivan clenched his fist over his heart in sympathy. "I’m sorry. Not just for you and Jane, but there are so few of us. Even with the slave farms there are less than three thousand of us. I wish you and Jane had stayed together."
Simon made a throw away gesture. "When Ramses died, we blamed each other. We couldn’t stand the sight of each other after that."
"But there’s good news," Ivan was upright, his eyes gleaming, "You’re behind the times, Simon. Of the fifty-two natural borns in the fifth generation, only six, less than twelve percent, are rejects." He grinned fiercely, "Dr. Kong says the genes are stabilizing. Not that they let him near a gene sequencer, but he says the chromosomes look much improved from the first generation."
"Only six." Simon said wryly, "Well, maybe there is a future for us after all. But my part in that future is going to be as a scientist. An obvious example of ichimp intelligence."
"You were raised by a human, verbal only speech comes easy for you. But even most of us drop the proper grammar when there are no humans around. Think how hard speech is for the farmed kids. Their chimpanzee surrogate mothers barely know sign language, they have only a little exposure to spoken language before they are forcibly removed from their mothers and sent to ‘school’. It’s no wonder we’re all treated like idiots."
"You’re the fiery advocate, Ivan, not me. But for all our sakes, stick to the courts, don’t resort to violence."
Ivan grinned fiercely, "You are wrong about that, as well. We have to make a break with the humans, violently, if they insist. As long as they’re cloning us like livestock, as long as we’re raised like animals for slaughter, they will get away with calling us stupid animals. We’ve found a place that we can make our own. And we’re all going there. All of us. You’re one of the few who won’t listen."
"All? Are you crazy? Where are you going? To one of the Caribbean islands you were talking about? They’re only ‘unaligned’ because they’re so poor nobody wants to take responsibility for them. For valuable property like three thousand ichimps, they’ll come in force. And don’t think the international courts will protect you." Simon shook his head in disbelief, "What about the babies on the farms? How are you going to get them? Huh? And if you do, they’ll just clone more from the gene stockpile the Foundation keeps."
"That’s the best part. Four years ago we made a deal with the devil." Ivan cocked his head at him, "Your foster mother, in fact. Fascinating woman, we’ve become quite good friends."
"Oh, shit Ivan!" Monk looked at his friend in alarm. "What did you do for her in return? What did she do?"
"She replaced the Davis Foundation frozen archive of ichimp genes with ordinary chimpanzee genes. Every single baby born on the chimp farms in the last three years has been just that. An ordinary chimp. And we know where all the ichimp kids are." Ivan gave him a decisive nod, "We’re taking them all."
"But what," Monk repeated, "Did you do in return? My mother exacts a high price for her services, and not usually in money."
Ivan barred his teeth in a non-friendly gesture, "You’ll see, next week."
Agent Kirby was swearing. Creatively, thoroughly, and in as many languages as she knew. Silently. Whoever had come up with this stupid assignment, vital though it might be, was going to owe her BIG when she got back home. A vacation. A REAL vacation, with no space suits, space ships or airlocks within ten miles of where Kirby was going to be.
"Hey, fuzzie! You going to bring that welder over here, or you going to play with yourself all day? " Kirby sighed. It wasn't bad enough that she was an ichimp, but she’d been raised in an all human environment and had trouble finding a niche in life where she was accepted on the strength of her accomplishments, not her looks. These undercover assignments in space were a pain. Usually she was on Earth and just had to pretend to be a servant and trot around with drinks, snacks and open ears at important parties. Maybe this would be her last time undercover, her enlistment was up in six months, she could see if she could make it as a civilian.
The human roughneck was still waiting for the welder, and he wasn't going to go away. Kirby sighed again and took the welder over to him, then watched him give the demo on how to use it. Again. Then used it, under his careful supervision. These humans have been told and told how intelligent ichimps are, and seen it themselves. Why don't they believe it?' thought Kirby. Or maybe they’ve been told so often how ‘limited’ we are, that they can’t see the truth for the propaganda they grew up with.
Kirby finished the weld just as the suit comm chimed, signaling shift change. Kirby joined the other chimps trooping into the airlock. The chimps chattered in a limited sign language augmented with single words or simple sentences, less noisy, but otherwise much the same way human workers chattered, and the topics were about the same. It was funny, really, other than languages, the main differences seemed to be cosmetic. She herself was fluent in several languages and was beginning to wonder if she was a freak genius, or if the ichimp babies were being raised in a deprived environment that crippled them. Animals. The Foundation does this purposely so they can continue to claim that we are just animals. She shook off the thought. I’d better muster out of the UEMC before I join the Chimpanzee Liberation Army.
She tuned back into the conversations around her. Today they were talking about the President’s visit. Some of them, well, nearly half, seemed to be in on some joke about it. She suspected it was something she should report to security. When she’d tried to ask about it, all she’d gotten was a wink and the finger to lips ‘silence’.
There were security guards in the airlock, who scanned and frisked everyone. They'd been there since the President had decided to do the dedication speech from the ship itself, and they found the same things they found every time . . . nothing.
The ichimps were escorted back to their quarters, rooms that would probably be small cargo holds when the ship was underway. Two of the guards stayed to watch the chimps. That killed Kirby's usual means of getting to her comm. The boss must be pretty worried by now. This makes two solid weeks I’ve been out of contact. Damn it, if there is something going on the extra security is going to make it impossible for me to report.
Vorp loved it. He rose up on his toes, so effortless. It had been so long! The slow lazy swing of the United Earth Exploration Ship Arthur Neville Chamberlain around its anchorage gave a sense of down and not much more.
The experienced crewmembers toe walked across the loading dock in long leaping strides like a slow motion ballet. He longed to copy them, but he was supposed to be inexperienced. The small gaggle of minor officialdom and major nuisances he was a part of, bounced insecurely out of the shuttle and into the open bay. The representative of a small, unaligned South American nation put too much energy into his first step. The experienced and prepared crewman snagged the windmilling politician and returned him to the deck. No, not crew man, crewer. An enhanced chimpanzee. Disgustingly hairy, but strong, very well adapted to space with that opposable toe. But if they were going to make them nearly as smart as people, why hadn't they made them better looking?
"Remember, sir," the ichimp was telling the pol, "you weigh only about fifteen kilograms here, so move very carefully. You may want to hold onto the safety line until you accustom yourself to this environment."
Good sentence structure, this is one of the smarter ones.
Vorp grabbed the line himself, and walked with obvious care across the freight bay. Care not to show expertise looked much like trying not to show a lack of expertise.
"I'd like to see President Bussard deal with this." Snapped the lady from For the Children, inching along.
"We will be increasing the spin rate for the President's visit." Vorp looked up to see Oleg Ori waiting in the corridor. The visitors breathed sighs of relief as they entered the safer confines of a person-sized corridor. Now the worst they could do was bump their heads.
"That hardly seems fair," griped the SA rep. "Don't we rate any consideration?" He was bald, smooth and handsome. Too bad he's important.
"Of course you do," soothed Ori, "It's just that we're still moving large quantities of equipment and really can't increase the spin." Oleg Ori was a short, squat, powerful looking man, just approaching middle age, rather hairy, in an over-manicured fashion. Goatee beard, slick short hair. He was flanked by a tall woman.
A man in his position shouldn't need to display a trophy, thought Vorp. Not that she isn't a fine trophy. The chalk white skin was intradermal UV protection, of course, but most people chose normal skin tones and reddish lips. With the black lips and black hair this one was - noticeable. Smooth muscles under delicious curves. If I were hungry . . .
"The President's visit has thrown our schedule off," said the black and white woman, "We're scrambling to finish preparations for the Chamberlain's maiden voyage next month. "
"The ship is nearly finished, then?" asked Vorp.
"She is completely finished," stated Ori. "We're just bringing the last supplies on board. After the President’s visit, the crew, most of whom are on shore leave now, will return and start the final pre-launch checks."
"It's an honor to have you aboard," Black-and-white waved them through a hatch and down another corridor.
"You’re Stuben, the project coordinator, aren't you?" asked the 4C woman.
"Yes, I've answered a lot of your queries."
The other members of the tour were studying the woman anew.
Oh, yes, we all know you, you give factual answers and no sympathy. And no access to Ori. Another important one, you'd be missed. Damn!
"Just what do you do, besides deflect our legitimate concerns?" asked the Asian. What group was he with? Racial Ratios, that was it. The loonies that thought the World Government should hand over sixty-eight percent of all space jobs to Asians.
"I make sure all the different designers work together, that changes in one area don't cause complications in another; or at least that the complications are known and compensated for."
Ori snorted, "Adele makes sure no balls are dropped and no one plays one upsmanship to the detriment of the ship' s function."
"PR is not a small part of the job." Stuben smiled over her shoulder as she led them further into the ship. "I'm sure we can allay your concerns about the Deep Space Manned Explorer Mission."
Back to business, thought Vorp. "Mankind was created by God and given dominion over Earth. It will take more than curiosity to justify turning our backs on God and departing again from Eden."
"We'll all be living on Earth for the foreseeable future," said Ori. "This is just an exploratory vehicle. Designed for long trips, but it's not a colony ship."
"I should hope not," sniffed the 4C woman, "We all know how badly The Children have fared, the few that have been born in space." She was plumply rounded. Not bad.
"Even the Moon." Put in the skinny nervous Asian. "The Lunar Base kids are completely unable to cope with full gravity. They're cripples if they come to Earth." Too scrawny, yech.
"It's the Lord's Will." Intoned Vorp, not missing a perfect opportunity to be offensive. "The Lord punishes those who sin."
"Do you think the children have sinned?" chided the South American Representative.
"They are born outside of the domain God gave to mankind. They are born outside God's grace." He pasted his most sanctimonious expression on his face as he swept his gaze around the small group. They had all eased back as if avoiding contagion. Life is good.
Ori cleared his throat, "This is the main control room. The bridge, if you're Naval; the pilots compartment if you prefer aviation terminology. Most of the routine is handled by the most advanced AI computer to come out of International TSGEA to date. The live crew," Ori nodded at the 'manned' consoles, ugh, yet another ichimp, and a wrinkled old man, who appeared to be scanning the exterior of the Chamberlain, no doubt just to have something impressive on the full wall display screen. "Monitors the comp, and initiates program changes. People still hold the edge in responding to the unexpected. I don't believe the computer can be built that matches the flexible and creative human mind."
The ichimp raised an ironic eyebrow, but Ori didn't notice. The black and white woman dropped a casual hand to the chimp's where it rested on the console. Did she pass something to it? Vorp frowned, why would a beautiful woman want to have anything to do with a hairy, stringy animal? He turned his back on it.
"This forward section consists of the docking section, secondary power generators, the scientific sensor array and all the associated electronics, the AI and main control. The second section is mostly framework, now with all the pressurized fuel spheres attached." Ori waved at the wall display, "and the smaller living spheres." The spheres were neatly packed like molecules in a long crystal lattice, the large fuel spheres with the eighteen tiny-by-comparison living spheres tucked in the interstices. "The Laser Activated Fusion Chambers and the exhaust nozzles are, of course, last."
"All the components of the ship are standard, off the shelf items. They have proven their ability and reliability for years on a multitude of other ships." Stuben picked up the lecture, "The only difference is the number of fuel cells we have attached and the use of three fusion drives. Even the large frame is the same as that used for the large ore haulers for the asteroid refineries."
Vorp carefully composed a sentence he hadn’t rehearsed in advance, "It is like a tinker toy set? Standard pieces put together in a new shape?"
Stuben nodded, "Very like that. A freighter’s frame with the largest standard laser fusion engines, a dozen times more fuel, eighteen standard Orbital Living Spheres and a science lab perched on top."
Ori waved them out the same door, and back down the hall to a sliding airtight door, "As we travel out to Living Sphere One, take note of the cable anchoring system. During the journey, when the ship is coasting between planets, or on station for any length of time, the ship will spin slightly, and the spheres will be run out on the cables to create 'gravity'. This will make it easy for the crew to return to Earth without extensive rehab."
"I think," sniffed the 4C woman, boarding the tram like conveyance, "That it is a fallacy to refer to centripetal forces as gravity. Spinning quickly enough to generate angular acceleration of equal force to Earth's gravity is seriously disorienting."
"The cables are 400 meters long," said Stuben, "We do not anticipate problems with motion sickness." She stood, rather rudely, thought Vorp, in front of Ori, practically backing him into a corner.
Vorp studied Ori, puzzled. The man was sweating, and looking down, not even glancing at his audience, or the clear plexiglas side that gave a view of the inside of the crystal lattice. Not that there was much to see, sliding down the interior of the frame it was quite dark. When the tram stopped and latched into the locking ring, he was the first off. Could the man be afraid? Claustrophobia in the small tram, or agoraphobia? Surely not, the man owned more space installations than the United Earth Government.
"Each Living Sphere is self contained, recycling its own air and water, and producing its own food." Well, Ori wasn't sweating now. What was the problem? The woman obviously knew, and helped him deal with it. The ambient light shown greenly through the arrays of algae tubes ranged along the walls in geometric patterns. Air supply as decor, he thought, interesting.
"In addition to the biological system," Stuben gestured at the algae tubes, "Which is spread throughout the sphere, each sphere has an electronic oxygen/carbon dioxide exchange system. The artificial system will only be used in emergencies."
Impressive. Pity the ship’s range is so limited.
Then he stopped dead in horror. The next room held racks of cylinders, wired and plumbed. And labeled. Beef, lamb, chicken. . . he averted his eyes. What would I become if _I_ ate that stuff? Cloned muscle tissue! He turned away only to find himself confronted with bovine milk glands oozing liquid into collection tubes. He staggered sickly back into the corridor, and concentrated on the Algae tube art. Of course they eat the excess algal growth, too. He rubbed his aching head. I WANT TO GO HOME! Necon Base knows I came here. Surely they are curious enough to track me down.
Vorp stumbled blindly through the remainder of the tour, barely taking in the details of the living spheres, the specifications of the fuel storage spheres, the primitive laser activated fusion. With four times the fuel I could get to Necon in forty years, he thought dazedly. If they don't send help soon I may well be desperate enough to try it. Thirty eight years of pretending to be one of these primitive aliens is enough!