Authors: Katy Stauber
Tags: #Science Fiction, #Fiction, #Adventure, #General
A love story.
Night Shade Books
(c) 2011 by Katy Stauber
This edition of
(c) 2011 by Night Shade Books
Cover art and design by Cody Tilson
Interior layout and design by Ross E. Lockhart
All rights reserved
Printed In Canada
Night Shade Books
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I'd like to thank Marie Stauber, Chester Hoster and Chris Roberson for for all their help and support.
ometimes Lady Luck's idea of girlish decorum is to pull on a pair of jackboots and frog march you towards the jaws of destiny. She was in that kind of mood the night ninjas broke in to Clio Somata's genetics laboratory.
If Clio hadn't been working late on a strain of medicine grapes, she might never have known her lab had been raided at all. She had just finished splicing in the requested vaccines. Now she was waiting for the mutation tester to cough up its results. She had a hunch that this batch of grapes would come out with too many mutations.
Mutations were normal, of course. But too many mutations and she'd have to start all over again. If that was the case, she wanted to get a new strain growing tonight. The French had promised a huge bonus if they could have these plants in time for the next growing cycle. Plus, she thought it was hilarious that the French wanted to take their medicine in wine format. It was just so French. They'd requested something robustly flavored, like a Pinot Noir or Beaujolais.
"Who wouldn't be willing to work a little late for a cause like that?" she asked one of the rabbits she was playing with. The rabbit just wiggled its nose. Clio had decided to wait for the results in the Animal Lab One while playing with one of the bunnies she had been working on.
She worked at the Floracopia Co-op, an agricultural gene modification company started by her mother almost thirty years ago. The Co-op was now one of the most cutting edge genetech companies in the world and managed to employ almost everyone in their small Texas town. While they mostly developed plant species for their clients, they did occasionally get to do more interesting projects like endangered species tweaks or herbivore remodeling.
These particular bunnies had not been a success, but they had some interesting phenotypic traits that she wanted to figure out. Being the head gene splicer and one of the founder's daughters meant that people tended to look the other way for what her mother called 'Clio's silly little projects.'
"Which is good for you guys, isn't it?" Clio asked the rabbits. "Otherwise I would have had to incinerate you, no matter how cute you are." The rabbit ignored her in favor of the carrot she had given it. People also overlooked the fact that she talked to her work. She felt it made the plants and animals happy. And since she spent so much time in her lab, it was good to practice talking so she wouldn't be rusty the next time she had real people to converse with.
Her handheld twittered to indicate the tests had finished. A brief glance at the results confirmed her earlier fears. There were too many mutations. One of them was particularly bad.
"Oh great. I'm going to be here all night," she moaned. The Newpox vaccine and the heat-resistance splices combined to cause the vines to produce a low yield of grapes.
Clio blew an exasperated sigh and ran her hand through her chin-length blond curls. There wasn't much point to making vaccine grapes without the Newpox vaccine, but they had to have the heat resistance too. Since The Troubles, almost all the food crops needed extra help withstanding what had happened to the environment.
The UN kept promising that Global Cooling would start any year now, but until she actually saw a summer day that was less than one hundred twenty degrees, she was going to keep planning for scorching heat. She thought about moving the Newpox vaccine to a different chromosome, but then decided that it would make the grapes taste too bitter.
She got up to go back to the Plant Lab and get the next batch of grapes in the incubator. Her stomach rumbled and she wished she had eaten more for dinner than chips and queso.
I really ought to eat more protein,
. It would be easier to eat healthy if cheese would stop tasting so good.
She stretched her back a bit and groaned inwardly at the thought of a few more hours of work before she could go home.
That's when she saw the light flickering in the hallway. Someone was walking around out there with the lights off, using a flashlight. No one who was supposed to be here would do that. No one was supposed to be here this late anyway. Clio noticed a loud pounding sound in her ears. She realized that it was her heart going into overdrive. She turned off the small lamp next to her and sat down behind a bench.
"What should I do?" she asked the bunnies. The bunnies were unconcerned with her issues.
She watched the shifting lights for a minute and decided that the intruders were at the far end of the building. She started creeping towards the door before smacking herself on the forehead for not doing the obvious. She sat back down, pulled out her handheld, and firing off urgent cries for help to her family and friends.
Now I'll just sit tight here in Animal Lab One and wait for the cavalry to come,
she sighed after she had finished. She realized that it was pretty late and the labs were a few miles from their tiny hometown of Ambrosia Springs, so it might be a while before someone showed up.
But wait. What if it isn't an intruder? What if it's just one of my sisters playing a stupid joke on me? Or a lab tech sneaking in to impress a date?
Now that she thought about it, she felt foolish for not checking it out before crying for help. The doors to all the labs had windows in them. She crept to the door and peered out of the window without opening it. There was no one in the hall, but she could see the door to Animal Lab Two was open and a flashlight was moving around in there.
She quietly nudged the door of Animal Lab One open and peered down the hallway. A crash and muted cursing ruled out her sisters or a lab tech. She felt a jolt of fear before the anger set in. Someone was breaking things in her lab! She snuck down the hall and cautiously looked in the open door. There were two masked figures dressed all in black standing in front of an ancient filing cabinet. They weren't really ninjas but they obviously had ninjas on the brain when choosing their attire for the evening.
These intruder guys kind of look like ninjas,
When I tell this story later, I'm going to say they were ninjas.
One of the intruders was obviously a large man, a little on the pudgy side. The other was tall and very thin and could have been a woman or man. The large man was showing the other a folder while shaking his head with confusion. After watching for a minute, Clio realized they were looking over her lab notes and didn't understand what they were reading.
She almost smiled to herself. She'd been lectured far too many times about neglecting to post her lab notes in the company data files. Instead of being able to pull up her notes on a company handheld, anyone wanting to read her techniques had to come in here and find them. The few times she had remembered to scan her notes in, she'd been further criticized about her indecipherable shorthand. And now these intruders were having a hard time finding whatever it was they wanted because they couldn't read her notes.
Apparently, being a lazy slob with bad handwriting does come in useful on occasion,
The smaller intruder began rapidly scanning all the documents into a handheld. The large man appeared to be collecting samples from some of the cages. Clio tried to remember what they had in those cages right now.
There were some high methane cows they were engineering for an alternative fuel company. One normal cow produces enough methane to power a small house. Since The Troubles, fuel was always a problem. So even something as gross as fitting out cows with special devices to capture gaseous emissions from the parts of them that might emit gases was pretty lucrative. Fortunately, this company got the bright idea of converting old sports arenas into huge methane plants. So no one lit a match for a mile around the old Astrodome in Houston.
Especially now that grain was so expensive, the methane capture company wanted cows that made even more methane. Clio was not fond of this project. These cows stank. And all that methane made them a huge fire hazard. She had to make very sure the ventilators were working in this lab or else one spark and she'd have a room full of fire-breathing cows. It had happened a few times and it wasn't a good time for anyone involved.
There were also the pygmy pumas that had been born out of the pseudo-womb two weeks ago. They were wanted in Colorado as a more manageable solution to the state's current rat infestation. All the rodents had been out of control since The Troubles. The state agency requested that they make them easy to identify so she'd made them bioluminescent. She could see the glowing little balls of cuteness in their cages as the large man shuffled around. There were a few other specimens, but nothing worth stealing. At least that's what Clio thought.
She was almost tempted to storm in and give these guys a good telling off. They didn't look that tough. But there were two of them and they might decide to beat her up. She'd had some self defense classes but wasn't confident in her abilities to do more than knee the groin of a drunk date who was getting a little too free with his hands. Clio thought about trying to take a picture with her handheld, but her hands were shaking pretty bad. She decided that the best thing to do was to go back to Animal Lab One and wait until help arrived.
She turned and realized she had forgotten two things. One was to shut the door to Animal Lab One. The other was to shut the door to the bunny cage. She could see three of the huge beasts hopping down the hall towards her. Clio's rabbits were much bigger than normal rabbits, even the ones meant to be a meat source. They tended to be about the size of a large dog. One of them gave a piercing shriek and Clio's heart sank. This strain tended to do that when they were happy about something. The two intruders turned and instantly spotted her. The larger man froze, but the smaller one quickly produced a gun. That's all she saw before she bolted down the hall.
She could hear them coming after her and it gave her speed she never knew she had. She leapt over a rabbit like a champion hurdle jumper and was almost to the doorway before the first shot fired. She couldn't believe it. Clio had been bitten, kicked and cussed out, but she'd never been shot at before. She could barely see straight, she was so scared.
She heard a rabbit squeal in pain and terror as one of the bullets struck it. They really meant to kill her! She heard cursing down the hall.
"Jesus Christ, is that what I think it is?" said a man's surprised voice.
The rabbits had confused the auto-sighting on the gun. She was thankful even as she worried about her poor bunnies. As more shots rang out, she slammed the lab door shut and locked it. Then she turned and looked through the window even though she knew she should probably run and hide.
The intruders were still at the end of the hall arguing over the twitching corpse of one of the rabbits. The other two bunnies were huddled against her door, obviously terrified.
The sympathetic nervous system is, among other things, in charge of the 'fight-or-flight response.' In times of stress, the sympathetic nervous system hijacks your higher brain functions and initiates a series of responses to help you survive. Responses such as raising your heart rate so that blood can rush to your muscles and give you speed. It dilates your pupils so that you can find your enemies and your escape routes with greater efficiency. It stops activity in non-essential areas like digestion so that every bit of reserve energy can be used for survival. Unfortunately, it also makes you do extremely stupid things. Like open the door to save your rabbits and let the bad guys know exactly where you are. That's what Clio did.
The smaller one with the gun started towards Clio while the larger turned back to Animal Lab Two. Clio slammed the door shut and re-locked it as another shot was buried into the door near her head. She raced to the corner farthest from the door and hid behind a lab bench.
Clio realized as the small intruder rattled the door, that she was repeating "Oh god oh god oh god oh god" quietly to herself like some sort of mantra. She forced herself to breathe slowly and think.
You are a rational creature so act like one,
she told herself. She decided that while the stranger wouldn't be able to get through the door, he would be able shoot through the window. She could hide behind a lab bench, but would a bench stop a bullet? Probably not. Clio remembered the auto-sight. She crawled over and let the remaining bunnies out of their cages. She hoped this would confuse the auto-sight again. She also hoped that someone with an auto-sight had never learned to actually aim the gun.