Chapter Thirty Seven
"OK, pull on it," May ordered; the marines pulled enthusiastically and wound up under the wall panel.
"Next time, not quite so much oomph." She suggested, peering under it at the grumbling soldiers.
"Like, they come apart pretty easy if you just know the trick, don’t they?" Her putative boss, the much promoted Captain Wolfe was watching from a safe distance. After some consultation with Earth, no doubt quite heated, Major, or rather, Colonel Woods had informed her and the rest of the irregulars that they had been pardoned. Most of the group had promptly enlisted, but the Colonel had suggested that given her opinion of government in general and authority in principle, perhaps they would all be happier if she were a civilian contract worker. She had agreed wholeheartedly, and Wolfe, who had been given Head Quarters Company, (all nine people of it) had monopolized her non bridge-duty hours altering the living quarters of the sphere, in as much as she was the only one in the sphere who knew how to do it.
The soldiers regained control of the vicious panel and manhandled it down the corridor and around the corner.
"Why’d you make such tiny quarters in the first place?" Wolfe asked, then added "You know." He was receiving much kidding about, you know, like, how his accent was fading from, you know, disuse.
"Half the scientists on Earth were vying for berths on the first voyage. I don’t know how the UESA was going to decide who got on, but we were instructed to prepare for the maximum safe load the life support could handle." She waved vaguely around as she stooped to the next wall and started the vibrator along the base. "Hence the ant heap. We can get rid of three fourths of this easily, even letting some of the large rooms have double height ceilings." She craned her neck around, "Did you get the plans I left on your comp?"
"Uh, like, yeah, and, you know, your next job is going to be showing Lt. Herring how you hacked it, so he can keep you out."
"Try to keep you out," he amended.
"It’s a lost cause," she told him. "Some friends of mine and I wrote a great many of the United States security programs, troubleshot a few more, worked for the UEG Consolidation Board as programmer analysts . . . "
"Arg!" Wolfe clutched his head, "No wonder we never could catch you!" he lowered his hands, "Are you really a hundred years old?"
"Certainly not! I’m one hundred and eleven years old. Don’t tell me I look it."
He started laughing. "You’re kidding right? You can’t have forgotten how to use a mirror, you look, you look," he sobered and looked at her. "You look like a caucasian female, mid twenties, no rejuve. Like, totally rippin, ya know. What are you really?"
"Really. Oh, it’s been a long time since I’ve been real." She cast her mind back, "I’m half Chinese. That is, both my parents were half Chinese, and born in China. My Dad, do you remember, umm, from history lessons, when China’s population control measures boomeranged on them? And nearly a quarter of the young men couldn’t find wives, because so many female fetuses had been aborted, in favor of male children?"
Wolfe nodded, "We get stuff like that crammed into our heads in sociology, you know."
She grinned, "Well, my Granddad, getting desperate, married a foreigner, purchased a child bride, actually, from India. Not being ‘pure’ my dad was discriminated against all his life. He wound up as an underpaid apprentice to a jeweler in Guangzou Province, which mostly involved stealing gold jewelry from tourists for the jeweler to melt down. My mother was born in Hong Kong, her mother was a prostitute, reeducated after China took Hong Kong back. Mom was probably half Caucasian, who knows? Anyhow they were definitely the lowest of the low in China. My mother was running an unauthorized support network and newspaper for others like them." She shoved the panel loose from the floor and leaned it against an adjacent wall.
"I’m not absolutely sure about a lot of the details. Basically, in the early years of gene engineering, and viral inserts, before everyone wised up, the Chinese government decided to make improvements to their soldiers. The first field testing they did was, of course, on lower class women, who, of course, where not informed of their status as guinea pigs. Women in the region around the lab who fit their profiles, not pure, poor, and under one month pregnant with a male fetus were given a ‘vitamin’ injection.’ She glanced over at Wolfe, "I didn’t find out any of this until I was fifteen. I was American, born and raised, and took a student tour that developed . . . complications."
"Your family was fairly well to do?" Wolfe asked. The two new privates wandered back in and without instruction grabbed the loose panel and carted it away.
She grinned, "Oh, yes, by then we were totally snob appeal ‘art’ jewelers."
Wolfe snorted, and she continued.
"And no, we didn’t pay for all of our…recycled…materials." She shrugged, "But before they left China . . . Mother became aware she was being followed home from the clinic. It could have been her clandestine newspaper, or Dad’s thefts, most likely the government was just keeping tabs on their guinea pigs, but they cut and ran, immediately. Mother miscarried, most of the women did, but the others were given one year contraceptives to be sure the viral inserters were cleared out of their systems. But Mother was pregnant again by the time they got to Taiwan. They managed to immigrate to the US, where we were born."
"So, how many of these experiments . . . worked?" Wolfe looked worried.
"Thirty two, according to the records I was able to access when I was there." He looked surprised, she shrugged ruefully, "I wasn’t raised to be a nice little girl. Dad, once he was in the US, picked up high tech electronic theft methods quite easily, umm, he had some interesting friends. We weren’t . . . quite . . . a criminal gang. We just, sort of, helped each other out, when there was need."
"Was he a thief or a fence?" Wolfe asked curiously.
"Mostly a thief, he only bought jewelry from our little circle. He never got caught," She winced a little at the memory, "He died of a heart attack while robbing a porno star’s home." She smiled a bit at Wolfe’s choke, "Everyone assumed he was a fan, stalking her. It was awful at the time, not being able to say, ‘No, he was just after her diamonds’. We sold the shop and moved."
"I suppose you were a big gangly girl?" He said looking up at her.
She looped an arm over his shoulders and grinned. "Nope. I was a stereotyped tiny little Chinese girl, good at gymnastics and ballet. I learned martial arts, but at my size everyone just took it as a joke. I’m still growing, very slowly now, but if I live another hundred years, I’ll take up basketball. It wasn’t until we were fourteen that we realized that there was something wrong with us." Wolfe wiggled nervously and she released him with a grin. "I’m much stronger than I should be, with very fast reactions, and coordination and agility and eyesight and . . . bunches of stuff. I heal extraordinarily well."
He frowned at her, "Why do you live like this? What do you want out of life? You must be able to buy anything you want. How much did Beringar pay you to steal the Chamberlain? Did Ivan pay you too?"
"There was some highly controlled equipment I wanted, that a ship like the Chamberlain could justify getting. And I made sure that they got them. I took a nanogenerator and a nanomanipulator off the Chamberlain. A bunch of miscellaneous stuff. Those machines, in case you were wondering, were my total payment for hijacking it. Well, Beringar paid up front for expenses." She grinned, "I don’t like the Pure Gene Poolers. Being engineered myself, I tend to sympathize more with the ichimps than the humanists. I got with Ivan right away to plan on taking the ship away from Beringar." The next panel came loose and she swung it out of the way.
"So are you, like, going to study yourself?"
"Actually, circumstances having changed, I have a real expert to do the studying."
"So, like, the Doc’s your twin?"
"Yeah, but we’re not identical." She sniffed, "Cherry was always the well behaved one. I was always the one in trouble."
"So, like, you were going to be the only human on board?"
"Nope, I was getting off and ducking back into the Asteroid Belt." She shifted another panel out of the way. "This time I may well have stayed there. I don’t seem to be able to stay out of trouble on Earth. People," she grinned at Wolfe, "Keep chasing me!"
The footsteps coming down the corridor turned out to be both the grunts and the Colonel. As the privates left with the next panel the Colonel split a look between them. "Everything going alright?"
"Just fine, sir." Replied Wolfe.
"Ha!" May Huang straightened. "The surfer dude has been, like, you know, so talkative I’ve wound up talking back to him. I’ll bet he’s just had the longest interview with me in police history. In fact, I know he has." She shrugged, "The power of, like, how everybody used to talk, way back when I was a kid."
"What can I say? I’m damned good, like, you know."
Vorp surveyed the tanks with disgust. All that gross and obscene manipulation of himself . . . he shuddered. And only two larvae to show for it. Even if they both survived, how could he capture the ship with only two soldiers? He snorted, then froze. That had been an awfully human sound! He’d better practice Cinna, or he’d not be able to communicate once he got to Necon. He tossed some of the small chunks of meat he’d brought into the tank with the two larvae, and stood poised as the larger larvae eased out of hiding and circled in to eat. His improvised net flashed out and snared it. It twisted and found enough purchase in the net to lunge at him, its needle teeth slashing his arm. With a croak of surprise he flung it into the other tank. Hissing, he applied pressure to the slash. Well, that was over. Now he wouldn’t have to worry about one of the larvae eating the other. But he sure wasn’t going to swim until they’d metamorphosed. He tossed meat chunks into the second tank and trudged back up the ramp to find a bandage.
Chapter Thirty Eight
"I’ve become a bureaucrat, these days. How about you?"
Chuck sat back and studied his visitor, while he contributed to the chitchat, "Same. I never should have let myself be talked into Officers Candidate School. I was much happier as a simple grunt." He mentally compared Ivan to the other ichimps he knew. Kirby was smaller, of course, being female, but Ivan was noticeably larger than Simon as well. He had seen recordings of the superchimps, taken in the massive raid in SoCal, and even in the heat of battle he had recognized Ivan as one. Maybe it was the speed. Or perhaps the rumors that superchimp genetic material had been used in the supersoldier project was true, and he’d felt the resonance he’d always had for the other boys from the lab.
"I appreciate your matching our monetary system," the superchimp continued. "My original plan was to have no humans, but it didn’t work out that way. Next best is for us all to cooperate."
"True," Chuck shifted forward in his chair, "Ivan, what sort of vibes are you getting from Beringar?"
"Damn bad ones," He answered frankly. "His people are calling mine abominations to their faces; I’m just waiting for the words to turn to violence. There’s been a bit of pushing, but nothing more so far. I’ve tried to subtly arrange things so my people encounter them as little as possible, so I don’t have to actually take official notice. But sooner or later I’m going to have to."
Chuck nodded understanding. "My flight crews have reported on their attitude on the bridge and in engineering. And they’ve got multiple trainees for every position. May Huang says we should expect a mutiny within a year of leaving the Iceberg."
"Yeah, she came down and talked to me as well." Ivan scowled, "I don’t know how much contact with ichimps you’ve had, let alone if you know anything about the genetics, but we’ve got two problems. Three," he corrected himself, "One, we’re," he grinned suddenly, an impressive show of serious teeth, and not at all expressive of amusement, "no, they’re designed to be passive and non violent, most of them can’t do much more than stand and take it. Two, they’re raised in a semi-deprived environment that messes with their mental development, then barely educated. Very few of them have an IQ above 90. We may be the largest group on the ship, but we don’t have enough smart people. Three, with all the artificial joins in our chromosomes, they tend to break or duplicate incorrectly. We have a low birthrate and high birth defect and infant mortality rates." He pressed his thin lips closed.
"That’s, that’s much worse than the rumors I’d heard." Chuck said, "Do you have any geneticists?" he dredged his memory, "Ichimps haven’t been much researched, have they? The labs were very tight with their data, weren’t they?"
"You’ve got it." Ivan nodded, "We literally don’t know much. And while we’ve got two doctors, neither is a geneticist." He rose and paced in obvious irritation, "I wanted us to be independent, to not need help from humans." He scowled, "But we hired that genetic engineer with the horrible critter. Her first results are pretty shocking, I’d like to ask Doctor Huang to look at them as well."
Chuck nodded, "I expect she’d love to, I think she’s bored up here." He scratched his chin thoughtfully, "And one way around the human problem is to talk about her, and May, as genengineered. ‘We artificial types have to stick together’, and things like that."
Ivan raised his eyebrows and smiled nicely this time, "If you’re not careful you’ll wind up a politician, and that’s much worse than either a bureaucrat or an officer. You’re one of us abominations, you know."
"Yeah. I know." He eyed Ivan curiously, "Have you ever seen the studies on us?"
"No, May hacked them, showed them to me once, but I didn’t read them, I didn’t really care about the science then, just the social aspects."
"Really?" Chuck stomped on his irritation, "I’m going to have to have a heart to heart with my prospective sister-in-law one of these days. I wonder if she has those studies along?"
"Hard to say, she hadn’t planned on coming with us." Ivan scowled, "But from what she taught me of her modus operandi over the years, she usually has multiple fall back provisions. Yeah, you should talk to her, it could be illuminating." He eyed Chuck, "How about having your own genes analyzed?"
"That is illegal." Chuck said flatly. I am the law out here, I above all, must obey it.
"Yes," Ivan nodded, "But is that going to stop you? We’re out here for the rest of our lives, and we need all the information we can get."
His traitorous subconscious shoved a long suppressed dream into his forebrain. I could have children. He stomped on the idea hard. It sat there like a rock, indestructible. "What did that geneticist, what’s her name? Prissy Something?"
"What does she say about the ichimps?"
Ivan snorted. "Mainly that what the Foundation originally published as the ichimp genes had little to do with the ichimps they started selling years later as semi-intelligent well trained animals. They’ve, the ichimps, got so many big pieces of human chromosomes patched in that they’re fully cross-fertile."
"Really?" Chuck frowned, "Surely they must have known. I mean, I know they’re the world’s worst bigots, but didn’t they test that?"
"Apparently not," Ivan grinned, "I remember the Cadre scientists sneering at the Foundation scientists. ‘Servants! Is that the best they can do? Don’t they have any imagination? Any vision?’" Ivan shrugged. "The Cadre wasn’t interested in playing games about ‘no human genes’. They started with human genes and started adding stuff they thought would be useful. But our appearances made it hard for us to move around, if it hadn’t been for the ichimps we couldn’t have gone anywhere. Then the government scientists, carrying on from there made their experimental animals close enough to pass for human, at first glance."
Chuck let the experimental animal crack pass, it wasn’t new and it was probably true. "Did you, the Superchimps, have liver or cardiovascular problems?" Chuck leaned back in his chair, studying Ivan, who was shaking his head. "How about aggression? I heard that the ‘Killer Chimps’ were so dangerous even their makers didn’t trust them."
"Pure propaganda. We were very loyal." Ivan’s brows met as his eyes unfocused a bit. "We were soldiers, we were loyal and took orders, and fought to the death, except for me." Even his stiff face couldn’t hide the underlying grief. "I was the only one that made it to the safe house. So I became an ichimp, and didn’t much like what I saw."
"Hence the Chimpanzee Liberation Front." Chuck hazarded.
"Exactly." Ivan looked around, "I really can’t believe I pulled this off." He looked back, "We won’t ever surrender our autonomy."
Chuck nodded, "I understand that, and if your Prissy is right about ichimps, the next generation will be . . . normal, I suppose is the right term. As intelligent as humans." His eyes narrowed, "You said they were, are, fertile with humans? Are there any hybrids?"
"A few, not many." Ivan grimaced, "It’s very Medieval, the master taking advantage of the poor maid. But the kids, however unacknowledged, were in a better environment than the farmed kids. Monkenstein, No, Livy, Fred and Suzy. Roughly half the smart ichimp are hybrids. Prissy says that may be because the hybrid embryos had fewer genetic errors and thus miscarried less often." He hissed. "I doubt there’ll be many more."