Chapter 1 ‑ Discovery
“What is it?”
“I don’t know,” said Brian. “When I picked up my clothes it was underneath.”
A translucent tongue flickered at them.
“It climbed up the wall yesterday.” He pointed to the edge of the ceiling. “Way up there.”
Twenty‑year‑old Camryn ran a hand through her blonde hair and scrunched her nose. “But it doesn’t have legs.”
“You should report it,” said Camryn.
“I want to keep it. It’s the only animal I’ve seen. Except for Rodentiacaca.”
A strip of patterned scales wound across the shadowy floor.
“I bet somebody cloned it. They’re probably looking all over for it.”
“Then they’ll have to keep looking.”
“You should report it Brian. Besides, how are you going to feed it? You don’t even know what it is.”
He nodded. “It’s been weeks and it hasn’t eaten anything. It wouldn’t even try reconstruction.”
“Food isn’t allowed out of the commissary. You know that.”
“Then you shouldn’t keep sneaking those snacks into your desk drawer.”
Her mouth opened, but she decided not to answer.
“Maybe the authorities will know what to do with it.”
Brian frowned. “Kill it. That’s what they’ll do.”
They stood quietly for a time, watching the creature’s thin body glide along a wall.
“Does it bite?” said Camryn
“I don’t know. I hate to admit it, but I’m afraid to pick it up. I touched it though.”
Her eyebrows arched.
“Just for a moment. It was firm; smooth; kind of oily.”
stooped in front of the little animal. “It is pretty. Who’d have thought something like this could have lived?”
She reached a hand toward it and the creature whipped wildly. Camryn stepped back, clutching her hand to her chest. She stood frozen, watching the animal.
Its movement slowed.
“I should just let it bite me and see what happens,” she said.
“Now you’re being—”
The creature coiled in a corner and Camryn stooped in front of it. The little beast raised its scaly head and spread wide its mouth. It hissed.
“I don’t know why I’m so afraid. I don’t see any teeth.”
“Just leave it be,” said Brian. “If you wind up at the clinic, how will we explain it?”
She backed out of her squat. “I’ll see what I can find out about— Well, whatever it is.”
He took her hand and gave it a squeeze, distracting her from his find. “Just be discreet.”
She smiled at him coyly. “Haven’t I been discreet so far?”
Chapter 2 ‑ The Expert
Camryn edged up to forty‑two year old Dobie and leaned against the counter. “What are you doing?”
“Same thing as the past twenty years.”
“Reading DNA sequences?”
“Adjusting one of the technical lines. I’m supposed to make them more tractable; and yet free thinking—so they can figure out how to fix things.”
“I wish we could see the finished product.”
“Our job is to write the sequence, not produce it.”
“But wouldn’t you like to talk with them?” said Camryn. “I mean, I’ve talked to some of the messengers; and occasionally to the food handlers—”
“Why doesn’t that surprise me?”
She smirked. “What I’m saying is, how do we know we’re doing a good job?”
“As long as there are no complaints, I assume everything’s fine.”
“Have you ever talked to any of them? About how they feel or what they think—or if they think? Have you had an actual conversation with say a technical model—or a medical? Anyone other than a creative?”
He shook his head. “I’m afraid I’d be disappointed.”
She smiled mischievously. “I hear you’re quite proud of your work. Some say you keep a personalized model locked in your cubicle.”
“And hopefully she’ll never get out. She might report me to the authorities.”
Camryn cocked her head. “I’m sure she’d realize all of your endearing qualities, and wouldn’t have the heart.”
“You don’t have to be nice to me—just because of Brian.”
She shrugged. “Brian thinks very highly of you. He admires your ingenuity.”
“You mean he fears my ingenuity.”
She didn’t answer.
“But tell me Camryn, what do you think of me?”
Her lips pursed as she considered his question. “You pretty much keep to yourself. Spend a lot of time on the computer. But you must know more about ancient animals than anyone else in the sphere.”
“You’ve pulled my research history? My files?”
“Nothing like that. Sometimes I see the screen from across the room. All kinds of wonderful beasts! Sometimes I want to come over for a look, but I know you don’t like me much.”
“I don’t dislike you.”
“When I’m around Brian you’re polite enough. But most of the time you don’t even acknowledge me.”
“So did you come over here just to make me feel guilty?”
“Maybe I just wanted to say hi.”
He blushed. “Okay. Hi.”
“Plus, something’s prying on my mind. I wanted to ask you—”
His blush deepened. His chest froze mid‑breath.
He gave a quick nod.
“If someone happened to see something unusual—”
He began to let out a tiny bit of air.
“But didn’t quite know exactly what they’d seen—”
The blush faded and he turned back to his work.
“I bet you could tell them what it was.”
“So,” he sighed. “What does this sequence of yours look like? The one that you saw?”
“Well, actually it’s a whole series of sequences. Put together so that it’s living and breathing.”
His jaw dropped. “You’ve seen it, haven’t you?”
She took a step back, her face blanching. “Seen what?”
“Whatever it is that Brian’s been hiding!”
“What’s Brian got to do with this?”
“I know he has something in his cubicle. We usually hang out there, but lately he won’t let me in; always wants to meet in the commissary or the lab. Something’s in there.”
“Well I don’t know, because I haven’t seen it. But you have, haven’t you?”
“Sometimes Dobie you get the strangest ideas.”
She turned to leave, and he put a hand on her arm. “Hypothetically—,” he soothed. “What might this thing you saw look like?”
“I only saw it in passing.”
“It’s all right Camryn. Brian’s my friend. I don’t want to get him—or you—in trouble.”
The rims of her eyes began to redden.
“That gross, huh? You know, with enough persistence and research you could probably find the answer yourself.”
“There might not be time for that. It hasn’t eaten for weeks. It’s bound to die.”
“Let me understand this. Brian cloned—what I presume is an animal—and he doesn’t know what it eats?”
“He didn’t clone it. He found it. Look. I wasn’t supposed to say anything. If you’re going to turn anyone in, could you just report me and leave Brian out of it?”
“And what happens when they question you? I can see you’re slick at hiding your feelings.”
“Just promise me.”
“I’ll tell you what. Come by my cubicle tonight, and we’ll figure it out.”
“We might need a computer though.”
“Maybe, but then things will be quieter around here and there’ll be fewer questions.” He raised an eyebrow toward a coworker across the room. “Harmon’s probably wondering why you’re talking to me right now.”
She met Harmon’s inquiring gaze, and then lowered her eyes.
“Come on,” said Dobie. “I’ll tell my sexy clone to be on her best behavior.”
She thought for a moment, and then nodded.
“It’s a date then. Let me finish with these, and I’ll see you later. And bring some of those snacks you’ve been stashing.”
Chapter 3 ‑ Contraband
She stood at the door and pressed the button again.
answered, sliding the door aside manually, just wide enough to squeeze through. “Hi,” he said, joining her in the corridor.
“I was beginning to think you’d changed your mind.”
“No, but I think you’re right. We’re going to need a computer.”
“I had a little trouble finding you back here, even with your directions. Why aren’t you in one of the dorms like everyone else?”
“I have a bit of insomnia. This way, if I can’t sleep, I’m closer to the lab—and something to do.”
She nodded to a door as they passed. “Who’s in that one?”
“Storage I think.”
“And that one?”
“Aren’t you lonely back here?”
“Nah. Sheila keeps me company.”
“You know. My personalized clone.”
“Well in that case, it is best you keep to yourself. The corporation tends to frown on unauthorized clones, you know.”
They entered the lab. Their hands brushed as they reached for a switch on the wall. The overhead lights flickered.
“What if someone comes in?” she asked.
“Then they’ll see me working at night—as usual.”
“But they’ll also see me working at night—highly unusual.”
“Yes. Well, we have all noticed your lack of enthusiasm.”
Her mouth opened a bit.
“And it’s curious. You seem very loyal to the corporation; yet the corporation values productivity above all else.”
“Sometimes I just want to enjoy myself,” said Camryn. “You know—relax and have some fun.”
“It’s just hard to get enthused about work when I’m denied the results.”
“Knowledge would only interfere with productivity.”
“I always fulfill my assignments. My productivity rating is actually very high.”
“You needn’t defend yourself. I highly admire your lack of focus.”
“Could we just get to work?”
“Not so fast,” he said. “I think some snacks would be in order.”
“Why does everyone think I’m sneaking food?”
“Nobody opens and closes their drawer that much. Or chews thin air.”
“I’ll make you a deal. Let’s get to work, assume I’ve nothing in my desk, and I won’t say anything about Sheila.”
“And how do you rate a computer at your desk?”
Dobie shrugged. He took a seat and Camryn pulled up a chair. “So,” he sighed, “what does this creature of yours look like?”
“It’s hard to describe.”
He pushed a data pad toward her. “Draw.”
She drew a circle attached to a squiggly line.
“Oh!” he said. “I can tell you what that is!”
“Sperm!” He looked at the drawing a second time. “Yes. Definitely sperm.”
“Round head. Moving tail.”
“The tail’s really long,” she said, holding her hands apart. “Like this.”
“What does the head look like? Does it have a big snout? Little ears?”
“Like a circle. Maybe an oval. I didn’t see any ears.”
“And where are its legs?”
“It doesn’t have legs either.”
“Are you sure you’re not describing Brian’s wiggly? It can be quite a shocker the first time you see one.”
Camryn reddened. She bumped a stack of yellowed papers filled with charts and formulas, and it slid off the desktop. The items fell into a loose pile on the floor and something clapped on top.
“Leave it,” said Dobie. “I’ll get it later.”
“Is it a box?” She reached down and lifted it gently with both hands. “No,” she mused, “papers.” A few sheets slipped from the collection. Camryn pressed the remaining sheets together to keep them in place, and then found they were attached.
“It’s called a book.”
“Clever the way the paper’s all stuck in like that.”
He reached toward it and she drew it away. “Can I take a look?”
“You probably shouldn’t. It’s considered contraband.”
“It’s very old. Maybe before the time of computers. Who knows?”
“Before the corporation?”
She looked down at the loose pages lying about her. One had a fanciful picture of an animal with great horns.
Dobie helped her gather the strays, and then watched her face as she leafed through the book. Her mouth lipped the captions beneath each illustration. He watched the lips move.
“Where did you get it?” she asked.
“Found it where?”
He pointed to an animal with brown spots and a long neck. “I like that one.”
“You think someone made all these animals up? I can hardly believe—”
“They’re real. Or at least they used to be.”
She ran a finger around the giraffe. “What are these things behind it?”
“I saw a plant once—a real one. About so big.” She held up her thumb and index finger. “So we could make all of these?”
“In theory. Some of the DNA isn’t in the library though. I’ve checked.”
“How long have you had this?”
“I don’t know. I thought I’d lost it. Guess I need to organize my stacks every now and then.”
“Do you think our animal would be in here?”
“You can look if you want. I’ll try the computer.”
“This one looks like Rodentiacaca.”
He leaned over for a closer look. “Lemur,” he read. His breath floated a strand of her hair. The warmth about her cheek seared his. Reluctantly he drew away. “So are you going to tell the authorities? About the contraband?”
She flipped to another page. “Umm huh. After I’ve looked at the pictures.”
When she noticed his silence, she looked up. “Just kidding. I won’t mention it to anyone.”
“I just wondered. I heard that you reported someone once—for keeping a plant.”
“Well yes, but I was only eight years old. She was my best friend.”
“You turned in your best friend?”
“I was eight! I was just following the rules.”
“The rules haven’t changed.”
“It’s just a bunch of paper. I’m sure it’s valuable, but I don’t think there’s any danger to it.”
“But who knows what eons‑old, DNA‑altering bacteria might be lying in wait—there on those very pages?”
She rubbed her fingers together.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “I’ve had it for years and I’m still alive.”
“Besides,” she said, “if I report your book, you could report Brian’s creature.”
“I would never report a friend.”
“I was eight! Nothing happened! The authorities came and gave her a scare; that’s all. They tore up her plant and stomped on it, and then hugged her when she cried. She never broke the rules again.”
“Or confided it to you.”
“You think she had other secrets?”
“You’d never know.”
“So if she had the plant, and you have this book, and Brian has his little creature, does that mean I’m the only one not breaking the rules?”
“Depends. Are we still overlooking the snacks in your desk drawer?”
“The alleged snacks.”
“And the fact that you’re helping Brian keep an unauthorized animal? And that you’re helping me conceal a contraband book?” He gently took the book from her hands and laid it on the other side of his desk. “Your animal’s not in there.”
“How do you know?”
“Everything in there has legs.”
Chapter 4 ‑ Mouse32
“Okay,” Camryn mumbled to herself. “Let’s get some food for Brian’s snake.” Her fingers tapped out a search and a menu appeared.
Results for primordial mouse:
- Mouse32: Origin of genetic predispositions
- Recombinant DNA creates ultimate lab animal
- Lab mouse. Variants available.
“Let’s try number three.”
Results for lab mouse variants available:
- Epileptic Qualified engineers only
- Diabetic Qualified engineers only
- Alopecic Qualified engineers only
- White Qualified engineers only
- Recombinant Macaca Qualified engineers only
Camryn scanned the results, and then typed “Dictionary: Epileptic.”
A small window appeared on the screen.
One who has epilepsy, a dysfunction of the neurological system presenting as recurrent episodes of convulsive seizure or an altered state of consciousness.
“Better go with white. At least I know what that is.”
Order placed. Confirmation number ZZ8972.
“But what if someone asks? I was curious what they looked like?” She shook her head. “I could have searched visuals for that.” She scratched her chin. “I bet a colleague that I could obtain some original mouse DNA? Which colleague? How about… I was helping my boyfriend? Definitely not.”
She smiled to herself. “What am I worrying about? Brian won’t say anything. Dobie’s got the book, so he can’t report me. What if the professor finds out? Maybe if I order a couple of common samples, it won’t seem so suspicious.”
“Can I borrow that computer?”
Camryn jumped at the voice.
“Mine’s processing a formula,” said Dobie. “And the other one’s taken.”
“Oh. It’s you. Just placing the order.”
“I thought you were upping your productivity level—afraid the corporation might discontinue your genetic code.”
“I hope they do,” said Camryn. “I like thinking I’m one of a kind.”
“Don’t we all? I just hope they don’t clone another Engineer Seven‑ninety-seven until I’m gone.”
“No one could replace you, Dobie. Why a new clone would be all fresh and wrinkle‑free. It wouldn’t be the same at all.”
“I’m not that old.”
She ignored his protest and typed in the order.
“Okay. Done. It’s all yours.” She touched his sleeve as she rose to leave. “I appreciate your help. I hope you know that.”
“It’s all right,” mumbled Dobie, taking her chair. “As long as Brian’s safe and happy. That’s what’s really important.”
Chapter 5 ‑ Corridor Thirteen
Corridor 13. Compartment 9.
Corridor 9. Compartment 3.
Common name Mouse232.
Corridor 8. Compartment 6.
Common name Mouse232‑5.
A librarian in the archival compound received the order. His lips moved as he rehearsed it a few times.
Carrying a small box, he passed down a long tunnel and entered Corridor Eight. He retrieved a sample of mouse two‑thirty‑two‑five and continued to Corridor Nine, where he collected the last remaining vial of two‑thirty‑two.
In Corridor Thirteen, he wandered the aisles, each of which was walled with environmentally‑controlled compartments. Each compartment held flats of stumpy vials and cards with gelatinous smears.
He selected a vial and held it to the light, imagining what legendary animal might dwell within. Was it huge? Could a hoselike nose wrap a person and squash them lifeless? A part of him hoped so.
He placed the vial into the container, and then turned the knobs on the box to match the compartment settings.
He returned to his station and, remembering that he’d retrieved the last vial of a kind, sent notice to the head librarian.
Mouse232 to be sealed. See final order issued below.
The head librarian read the message over her assistant’s shoulder.
“Not good,” said the assistant. “Nothing makes an engineer crankier than to tell them a line’s run out.”
The head librarian laughed. “The last time that happened, you’d have thought the waves were crashing in.”
“Yeah, and we just about drowned in complaints,” he said. “It’s funny how one line can be used up so quickly, while others sit for decades—sometimes generations. See. Here’s a request from Corridor Thirteen. No seal on that one.”
“No one asks for anything that old! Make sure it’s not a mistake. Send an inquiry to the originating librarian, would you?”
The assistant typed.
Please confirm request for vial 54/89, Corridor 13.
Confirmed. Requested by Engineer 621. See engineer for further information.
“Should I ask what kind of DNA?” asked the assistant.
“No, because he won’t know. Items in that corridor are classified.”
“Wait. Another message.”
I hope they’re cloning an elephant. I’d like to see one of those.
“What’s an elephant?” said the head librarian.
The assistant shrugged, and then typed “Dictionary: Elephant.”
Herbivorous animal approximately 7 m at the shoulder and weighing approximately 5,800 kg, having a long, muscular nose used for grasping, large fanning ears, and long, outwardly pointing upper incisors used for digging and combat.
“Don’t want that thing running around!” said the assistant.
“Better notify the authorities.”
“We don’t know that elephant was ordered though.”
“No,” said the head librarian, “and it probably wasn’t. But I don’t mind making a little trouble for the creatives, do you? Keeps them humble.”
“I guess so.”
“Go ahead. Make the authorities work a little too.”
The assistant typed.
Order placed to DNA library for unknown item. Old DNA no longer used. Suspicious? Item requested by Engineer 621.
Chapter 6 ‑ Trust
Camryn glanced over at Brian as he worked, pausing a moment to consider Harmon and Penny and what contraband they might be hiding. Her eyes moved toward Dobie. She started a bit when he smiled and nodded back.
“It should be here shortly,” she thought.
She pictured the professor signing for it. “Dangerous order,” the old man reprimanded, laying it on her desk.
“Professor— I could be involved with something I shouldn’t be. Can we talk?”
He grunted. “You’re a creative, Camryn. One of a select few. The group with the most flexible genetic arrangement. You should, after all this time, be able to think for yourself.”
She shook herself from her thoughts, as a messenger entered the lab. In his hands was a small black box. Camryn watched him cross the room, and suppressed a gulp. In protest, her leg jerked spasmodically beneath her desk. She attempted to hear better than her ears might allow, catching snatches of the messenger’s remarks. “Delivery for— Is it—elephant?”
The professor gave his usual grunt and dismissing nod. He set the box aside before returning to his work.
Camryn scribbled on a data pad for effect, but her eyes returned to the little box on the counter. The professor cleared away several pieces of equipment, and Camryn hoped he’d finished for the day. He retrieved more equipment from the cupboards and drawers and then, with a surprisingly agile hop, settled himself atop his lab stool.
Camryn eased out of her chair. Feeling a bit lightheaded, she reminded herself to breathe. Her fingertips dragged across the desktop as she stepped forward, and then paused at its edge.
Across the room, Dobie left his desk. He stopped a moment to speak with Harmon and then, hands tucked into lab coat, made his way toward the box. “Is this—?” He read the digital label and shook his head. “I’ll take it to— Thanks.”
Dobie fixed his eyes on Camryn as he handed her the container. “Your sperm order ma’am.”
Hearing the word, Harmon glanced at them. Camryn rolled her eyes and shook her head. When Dobie was again seated, she carried the box to an open computer station.
“Now what?” she typed.
“I’ll see if they’ll work it in,” Dobie replied.
“How long will it take?”
“Don’t know. Do you know the growth rate?”
She looked over at him and shook her head.
“Don’t look! Type!”
“Won’t they want something in exchange?”
“Probably. They’re taking a risk.”
She hesitated. “Have you done this before?”
“Do you really want to know?”
“A few times, and you’re right. They’ll want something.”
“What?” typed Camryn.
“You gave it to me.”
“I loaned it to you.”
“I’m not done looking at it.”
“Do you have something else then?”
“Our wardrobes are limited. Don’t think so.”
“Everything’s limited,” argued Camryn.
“Do you have any contraband?”
Her heart pounded at the question. She scanned the room, assuring herself that others couldn’t hear her thoughts. “The corporation provides all,” she typed.
There was a long pause.
“The book then,” Dobie replied.
hesitated before answering. “Do you have anything?”
“I HAD the book. This is YOUR project. Remember?”
“Maybe it’s already dead.”
“You’re giving up then?”
She looked toward Brian, who was speaking with Penny. Penny, she thought, seemed overly flirtatious.
“Okay. The book. How? When?”
“Tonight at the commissary.”
“How will I know who to give everything to?” asked Camryn.
“You won’t. I’ll make contact.”
“Then how will I know who’s doing the work?”
“You won’t. That’s part of the deal.”
She frowned at the screen. She typed something, deleted it, and then began again. “Does ANYBODY trust me? How come they trust you?”
“A) Should they? B) I’m cute”
She felt annoyed at B; stared at A.
“Yes, they should trust me,” she wanted to answer. “No,” she thought. “Maybe.” She wanted to be a person with books—to see the cloned mouse before it disappeared into the snake. But she worried about gaining too much knowledge—the responsibility and consequences that knowledge might bring.
“Do YOU trust me?” she typed.
The lack of response made the blood rush to her head. She typed again. “Do you trust me? Do you trust me? Do you trust me?”
An answer flashed onto the screen.
“Do you trust yourself?”
Her temples throbbed. Her chest burned with stale air. Her hand moved toward the keyboard. A finger pressed “Clear.”