Drop Bear Blues
The Mickey Pigs paid for us to move out to California with Pete and set up our own private lab, but of course we knew were going to need to come up with something new if we wanted our new company to do more than just stay afloat. And that was how we found out that if you leave Dave alone in the lab, he starts creating weird shit.
In this particular case, weird shit requested by someone who had apparently already paid us and sent plane tickets so we could come create their creatures for them. “Wait, you made this for who, to do what?! We are so going to prison.”
“Australia already was a prison.”
“Point. It isn’t now, though.” We were so dead. He’d made drop bears. Drop bears are urban legends, they’re basically man-eating koalas that hunt from trees the way some big cats do. Or at least, they were urban legends. Now, thanks to Dave, Australia was all set to have real ones. “At least tell me the guy’s not some nut. Please?”
“He’s not some nut, and he’s loaded,” Dave assured me. “He has a preserve sort of thing set up on his estate, he wanted them for that, and he got government approval first too. Already has a keeper there who’s got experience dealing with orangutans, which are about the same level of vicious we’re predicting, and he’s planning to tag them just in case. Oh, and if this works out he wants a bunyip or three to go with his drop bears.”
My eyes narrowed. “Don’t those drown people and then eat them?”
“Only if the people are stupid, Danny – the things are supposed to be as big as a hippo, not like you’re not going to see them in the water. I think I can make one if I mod a crocodile with manatee and then mod that with platypus…”
I left the lab so I could sit on the couch out front and have my stress headache in private. We had needed the money, yes, and it sounded like everything was on the up and up. And it wasn’t like we weren’t doing anything wrong, or illegal…but that doesn’t always keep you out of trouble when you’re dealing with a field the law hasn’t caught up with yet.
Luckily for GenoMod and Dave’s lab privileges, the international lawsuit I’d been afraid of never materialized. Our client and the Australian government were officially thrilled with the drop bears, and with the bunyips that came after, and as word spread we started getting calls asking for other creatures in that same category. Mexico wanted a flock of quetzalcoatls to put in the jungle near one of their more popular Aztec-themed resorts; we agreed but refused to make them venomous, and they were okay with that. Beautiful lizard-birds with four-foot wingspans were the result, and went over so well that they asked if we could make a few chupacabra according to their specifications for use near one of the more problematic border towns. To no one’s surprise, problems on the border in that area dwindled down to almost nothing once they’d set the things loose – they were ugly as sin, about the size of a large coyote and made the same kind of awful human-sounding noise foxes do. They were also relatively tame and had collars, the kind you put on dogs to keep them inside an invisible fence, so the chupacabras weren’t actually running wild and eating people like the government had been spreading rumors that they were. And word even got back to us later that the Texas Rangers had gotten with the Mexican border patrol guys on the QT and were helping them protect and feed the chupacabras because they were working out so well.
Then Canada asked us for a waheela. None of us had ever heard of one, turns out it’s a mythical bear-sized white wolf. Unfortunately we had to table that request until they could come up with a way to keep the waheelas from attacking cars on the roads, because wolves and bears are both highly territorial and if we’d done the cross with a polar bear like they wanted the things would have started using the highways as their own personal food delivery system – sort of like those sushi restaurants that have a conveyor belt. They promised they’d get back to us, but we didn’t expect to hear from them for a while; they have wild moose that terrorize their highways already, and so far as we could tell they’d never been able to get a handle on those either.
That was about the same time the governor of New Jersey got in touch and asked if he could have a Jersey Devil – basically, a horse with bat wings. We ended up not being able to give him a full-sized one, but we made him a little one by modding a miniature horse with a goat and a giant fruit bat and the thing came out looking just adorably demonic. It was friendly, too, and the guy absolutely fell in love with it. New Jersey ended up declaring it their new official state animal after he brought it in while the legislature was in session, and the licensing rights to the stuffed toy version Hana designed for them padded their state’s budget – and her bank account – very nicely.
Unfortunately, just when things were starting to go so well, we also started to have problems. We’d been very firm with everyone who asked that we would not do mods on humans until we could guarantee that the process was reversible, but rumors started to go around that modded humans had been seen and no one wanted to believe we weren’t responsible for them them – everyone knew Hana lived in our lab, so it was easy for people to accept the idea that we’d modded her. The media started hinting around, and eventually outright accusing us after some of the ‘were-people’, as they were calling them, began to cause problems – an actual wolf-man started running around in Central Park chasing people’s dogs, and a pack of cat-women assaulted a guy in Chicago. They wouldn’t report our side of things at all or investigate any claim we made, and we learned pretty quickly not to give them any statements even when they did ask. We kept saying no to people who asked for any kind of human-related modifications, and weirdly our international clients believed us when we told them we weren’t doing that but nobody in our own country seemed to want to. The guys and I were getting stopped and searched every time we went to the airport, and Pete finally got someone who wasn’t supposed to be talking to him to confirm that we’d all been added to the government watch lists. Our mail was even being tampered with, and we were investigated for lab safety as well as ethical research violations multiple times – all of the investigations ended in a complaint dismissal because nothing was found, but the news only reported that we were being investigated and most people seemed to think we’d been found guilty and somehow slithered our way out of the consequences.
And of course, that sicced the animal rights nuts on us – not the regular animal protection agencies like APHIS or the American Humane Association, because we’d always maintained pretty strict transparency with them and they knew we weren’t doing anything we shouldn’t be, I’m talking about the fringe nutjobs who throw red paint on people wearing fur and refer to zoos as prisons. We got some threats which we dutifully reported to the police, we warned the governor of New Jersey when someone said his little Jersey Devil was a ‘tortured, suffering victim’ and should be put out of its misery – funnily enough, he was playing fetch with it when I called – and we put out the word to our other clients that they might need to step up security on their animals just in case. Some of the nuts eventually tried to raid the lab and got the surprise of their lives when they found Hana modeling a new dress for her online followers on livechat and her reaction was to scream and threaten them with scissors when they tried to grab her and then burst into tears because they’d gotten their commando base-raiding paint on the dress. They slunk out with their tails between their legs – figuratively – before the police could get there and we never saw them again. And Joey was able to come up with something to get the stain out of the dress – he called his mom and she told him how to do it – so everyone was happy.
The rumors were still going around, though. We kept doing what we were doing, because stopping would have been as good as admitting that our detractors were right, but it was getting harder and harder. I moved out of my apartment after the third time it got broken into – if you can call it being broken into when your landlord lets the intruders in with his key – and started staying in the room above the lab for the lab’s security and my own and Hana’s. We hired her boyfriend Barry as a lab assistant because we couldn’t trust anyone else, and one of his professors very kindly made sure he knew what he needed to know to do the work. Which gave us a connection to the university’s zoology department, which was no bad thing because they were absolutely fascinated by what we were doing. Providing them with details about the new animal species we were creating was actually good for us and them – us, because they were one more group who knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that we were working ethically, and them because nobody else had access to complete zoological data on the animals we were coming up with. One of their grad students even got to go to Australia and spend some time on the Allen Preserve where the drop bears and the bunyips lived.
He got stopped and searched on the way back into the country – he’d been added to the watch list – and Australia hit the roof. The Aussie news outlets ran a huge story about what was going on around us in the U.S., some of the European papers picked it up and ran with it as a matter of course…but in the U.S., not a peep of it was ever repeated. The university journalism people tried putting it out there – they were mad too – and a whole bunch of DDoS attacks in a row almost took out the entire uni network.
This was actually worse than the international lawsuit I’d originally been worried we’d end up with. This was our own country going after us…and it really did look like a conspiracy, we just couldn’t figure out why they’d go to all the trouble to harass and discredit us but not go all the way and force us out of business or just make us all disappear. Our working theory was that they were protecting Doc by making sure the fallout from his modding projects always fell on us. Because he was still working for them, maybe? It didn’t make sense, but we knew Doc had to be one of the Project Chaney guys, we’d even taken to calling him Doc Wolvie around the lab. None of us but Hana had ever seen the guy, though, and I was pretty sure it would be a really bad thing if we did – after all, we’d been pretty vocal about how unethical it was to mod humans. Were-people, as the media was calling them, or more often than that monsters. I really didn’t like that. They were still people, no matter what new species they technically were now, but if you start calling something that looks different a monster – which literally means ‘of strange and terrifying shape’, but in the common vernacular implies something with a lot more negative connotations than that – then you demonize that thing and make it okay to attack it or hurt it or kill it. You make it okay to treat it like a thing, not a living creature or a thinking, feeling human being. And in my book – all of ours, to be fair – that was definitely not okay.