©Neville Goedhals 2007. Visit my site at: www.NevilleGoedhals.com

AN ARMY WALKS ON ITS STOMACH

By

Neville Goedhals


The young man almost ran across the laboratory in excitement. There was a spring to his step and his dark-rimmed bloodshot eyes sparkled with joy.

“Damn it, Theo,” I said. “The boy needs to get some rest.”

Jeremy was our nineteen-year-old synthetic progeny, the product of a germ-line in-vitro fertilized egg. Naturally, his entire DNA had been artificially created to get around the idiotic cloning laws.

We had inherited Jeremy. Our clinic, Germline Incorporated, faced legal disaster when fifty of our clients’ children with our company’s tailored DNA developed a genetic mutation, making the children prone to fixated behavior. The only way to fend off a crushing class-action-suit had been to view the affected children as products rather than people.

We had expected the voluntary product recall to be ignored by our clients. After all, it was simply an attempt to circumvent punitive legal damages. To our amazement a family had actually returned their son for termination and disposal.

Theo dragged his gaze from Jeremy, and gave me a soulful look. “Ah, Emerson,” he sighed tugging at his white goatee. “If only my other lab-assistants were half as dedicated to their jobs.”

“You know he’s not dedicated! He’s damn well genetically predisposed to be passionate about whatever he does. If you had told him that his task in life was to make you coffee you’d be dead from a caffeine overdose by now.”

“Likely so, but I believe that we should study the mutation for possible inclusion in our product.”

“Not our product ... children,” I reminded him.

Clients don’t respond well to hearing that they’d give birth to a healthy bouncing product, which is pretty much why I do the face-time with customers rather than Theo. My partner is terrible with people, even if he is a genius geneticist. It was due to his work that our clinic was not only the most respected but also the most expensive in the North American Democracy.

Theo tapped his wrist-comp to accept a call. He listened on his ear implant in silence, then turned so that the caller could see me. The screen showed the caller to be none other than Marilynn Favor, or Major Favor as she insisted we call her. She was our military liaison officer ... and to me, the most beautiful woman in the world. Unfortunately she preferred Theo’s cold scientific demeanor to my more personable approach and only dealt with me when necessary.

“Major Favor wants us both to hear this,” said Theo scooting his chair across to his desk. He rummaged through the piles of coffee mugs and scientific bric-a-brac that hid the zebra-skin patterned desktop until he uncovered the desk-comp control. He pressed a button and a holo-screen glowed to life above his desk with Major Favor’s face looking coldly across at us. Her short jet-black hair, ice-blue eyes and perfect facial proportions, made me believe that she had undergone extensive somatic gene therapy. Nobody looked that good without help.

“Good morning Major Favor.” I straightened my shoulders and put on my best smile.

Her eyes turned to me. “Doctor Hawk.” She paused as if considering whether to add anything else to her curt greeting. “As Doctor Franck mentioned, I want you both to hear this. It may save time later on. We have a problem that we’d like you to investigate.”

So much for the pleasantries. “Are you contracting us to solve this problem?” I asked. Ever since Theo and I had managed to squeeze our way out of Science and Central Intelligence--which was run by the military--they’d been trying to use our services as if we were still conscripted.

Major Favor gave me a look of cold contempt. “Of course we’ll pay. The usual rate.”

“That’s very thoughtful Major, but the problem is we’ve got our hands full.” I lied, hoping to drive up her offer. Truth be told business had slackened off since our product recall.

“I’m informed that your clientele has dropped since your product recall,” said the Major as if reading my mind.

“For our level of experience and expertise you should pay more,” stated Theo in a bored monotone. “I’d suggest expenses plus a thousand credits per hour.”

“Very well,” agreed Major Favor without batting one of those perfect eyelashes.

I tried desperately not to gape in amazement. It was as if she and Theo were conversing in a shorthand that only they understood, and that all the arguments--for and against paying us more--had already been made in some other parallel universe. I decided to let Theo do the talking.

“What can you tell us about the problem?” asked Theo.

“Set your communications to secure,” instructed the Major.

“Done.”

The Major glanced down at something the holo-screen didn’t show. “Confirmed. I’m sending you some files. Before you read them I’ll give you the summary.” She hesitated as if unsure where to begin. “Recently an active reconnaissance platoon of ours was trapped behind enemy lines. The men weren’t issued with field communication or recording equipment as there were concerns that the enemy would detect electronic activity. The location is classified, but I can say that the terrain did not support much in the way of vegetation or natural wildlife. The troops ran out of both food and water and had no way to replenish their supply.

“Under those conditions the men should have succumbed to starvation and dehydration.” The Major frowned. “Two weeks ago one of the men made it back to our lines. He was in excellent physical condition, but couldn’t remember where he had obtained the food or water that allowed him to survive.”

I concealed my surprise. It seemed that the news-holo reports that the Eugenicists were alive and still actively fighting were true.

“Did you try truth RNA?” asked Theo quietly. I knew it was something he’d worked at while we were at SCI. It was something he never talked about it. There were many things from those years that we never discussed.

“Doesn’t exist,” said the Major.

“Then we need to follow other clues,” said Theo firmly.

“You understand,” agreed the Major as she and Theo did their parallel universe thing, leaving me guessing about what they weren’t saying. “We took into account the fact that he may have been tampered with by the enemy but all tests and intelligence in that direction are negative. The SCI ran every examination and comparison that they could think of as well.”