None of it was logical. Fanatics rarely are.
We heard about Norway because of a phone call from Canada. We were back in talks with them – with Newfoundland specifically this time – about the waheela they wanted, when one of their people mentioned that they didn’t know why they were having to jump through all of these hoops but Norway hadn’t. The person in charge of the call apologized – he’s Canadian, they do that – but I was immediately on the alert. “Wait, what’s going on in Norway?”
The guy in the background swore in French, and Jacques Moreau, the guy I was talking to, apologized again. “He reads the American news, ignore him. You had not heard about the creatures in Norway? I knew your lab hadn’t done them, because they sound like they’re human-based.”
We were both on speaker, and this time Dave swore and I apologized. “Sorry Jacques, we’ve been called in to consult on quite a few modded humans these past few years. Most of them were made by a man they call Doc, and at least he knows what he’s doing, but one…well, I’m sure you heard about the tree people, theirs came from a mod kit factory some idiots had started up in China. Interpol came down on them so hard I’m not even sure the building they were in is still standing.”
“No, Interpol would not have liked that. These creatures are bad in the sense that they are wicked, though, not wrongly made. Do you know what the hulder are?” I did not, and said so. “They are creatures from that area’s folklore, they are famous for luring young men away from their homes and families. They have the form and face of women, but also a long tail they apparently cannot hide.”
“And they’re kidnapping young men?”
“Oh no, these lure men to them, then assault and rob them. They are said to be vicious and very strong, and several accounts have confirmed that they have a long tail and their features are not quite right once one is already too close. Some people have made very racist observations about their facial appearance, in fact.”
“They said these women looked like monkeys?” I guessed, and he made an affirmative noise. Crap. “Actually, they’ve probably been modded with monkeys to get the tail and that changed their facial features too. I’m not saying the comments weren’t meant to be racist, but some monkeys do have facial features some humans inherit as well. If you go back into the old biometric records from the mid to late eighteen-hundreds, you’ll see a lot of native Londoners who have monkey-featured faces too. It’s the kind of thing that makes evolutionists believe they’ll eventually find a cut-and-dried missing link, spotting race-independent shared features between humans and monkeys.”
Jacques made an interested noise, but his un-Canadianly rude co-worker cut him off before the discussion could get any more sidetracked. “So you claim you don’t know about the hulder, but you know what they’re made out of?”
Dave rolled his eyes. “With that description, it’s pretty obvious what they’re made out of – the base mod, anyway. Norway hasn’t called us, though, so whatever they are isn’t our problem. And in response to your earlier issue…the reason we’re making you jump through hoops is because the creature you want us to make for you is gigantic and it eats meat and our original contact from Alberta just wanted to turn it loose in one of your national forests and let nature take its course. Which it would have, but not the way they wanted. We’re trying to make sure you have a better containment plan in place, especially since you want at least one breeding pair.”
“This creature is going to be the size of a grizzly bear,” I put in. “We’re talking about modding a timberwolf with a polar bear, neither one of those is a friendly animal to begin with, they’re both huge, and polar bears actively hunt human beings in their natural habitat. Tracking is problematic for both species because they’re smart enough to get the collars off, and when we talked to the big zoo down the coast about containment they scared the hell out of us by showing us how their polar bear habitat actually works.”
“Basically they have them in a glass-and-concrete tank-pit with features to discourage climbing, but the main reason the bears stay put is because they’re well fed,” Dave explained. “That glass wouldn’t hold if the bears really wanted out. So I think you can understand why we’re leery of your plan to use an electronic barrier system for the waheelas, even if you were implementing it with shock collars – which, by the way, would be illegal.”
He huffed. “Your country uses them for dogs.”
This time I rolled my eyes. Thank goodness this wasn’t a video chat. “No, not legally. We do have training collars and other items which are legal, but they work by use of a mild static charge, not an electric shock like a cattle prod, which is what I believe you’re contemplating. Jacques, you know we’d love to make a pair of these for you, according to the sims they’re going to be absolutely beautiful animals…but let’s be blunt here, they’re also going to be gigantic and mean as fuck, so unless you’re putting them in a zoo-type environment where containment can be guaranteed, we just can’t do it.” I heard something from his peanut gallery. “Oh, and we don’t recommend a DIY mod kit – the only group still going right now that we know of is doing fifty-fifties, and if you drop a fifty-fifty with those two animals…well, here.” I pulled up the sim and dumped a copy in the shared folder we were using. “See for yourself.”
And then I kicked back in my chair and waited, and when we heard him curse in French I – quietly – high-fived Dave. “No, I do not think we will go the ‘unofficial’ route,” Jacques said. “That is tres horrible, Danny.”
“Even moreso if it was alive,” I pointed out. “Seriously, though, we know you guys want some waheelas, we’d love to make you some waheelas…but I think your only option is a zoo. I would say an island preserve, but polar bears can really swim so that’s probably not a good idea either.”
“No, it may not be,” he agreed. “Although there has been talk of making such a preserve for several years now, I will see if I can track down the people who were planning it. It was supposed to be like an amusement park and zoo all in one – like Disney World.”
Most likely more like Jurassic Park, but I wasn’t going to say that name out loud – we get enough of that shit from the press, even now, and I’m not going to start spreading it myself. “We’ll keep the sims and the mod plans,” I told him. “Whenever you’ve got something workable, just get in touch and we’ll be there with bells on.”
He gave in gracefully and we put the waheela back on the back-burner where it belonged – seriously, this thing was gorgeous but it would have used their province as its own personal feeding- and breeding-ground and then spread out across the continent. Which we happen to be sharing with them, so not a good idea on many levels.
Six months later Jacques called us in a panic because they had something white, wolflike and vicious running around the islands killing anything that moved, and we handed Rick recordings of every conversation we’d ever had with him and all the (unused) mod data for the waheela because it was a given we were about to get blamed for something by somebody. Sure enough, I was agreeing to come take a look when Rick called me back and told me my ass was staying as far from the Canadian border as possible – Jacques said he hadn’t known, but his country wanted to arrest me for creating whatever the thing was. If I’d tried to cross the border I’d have been in a Canadian jail within the hour, and due to the situation we still had with our own government I’d have probably stayed there with extreme prejudice. We told Jacques that, and instead I agreed to work with him long-distance to figure out what the creature was while Rick and Dave had semi-polite arguments with Canadian officials about how maybe they should check the hothead who’d been working with Jacques instead of knee-jerk blaming the people who had already refused to make their deadly dangerous creature for them multiple times.
Two days later we had an official apology from Canada – signed by the Prime Minister no less – and a practically begging request to please please pretty please come help them identify the origin of the creatures in question. Turned out it had been Jacques’ buddy after all – and Jacques had been sort of kind of in it with him and lying about not knowing exactly what it was. Because while he truly did believe that we believed it was too dangerous without special precautions, he hadn’t really believed that himself. Because moose and bears and wolves already roamed all over Canada in the wild, apparently. He had taken the ‘no fifty-fifty’ rule to heart, though, because they’d used a forty-thirty-thirty instead.
Guess what that last thirty was? Come on, just guess. If you didn’t say ‘wolverine’, you were wrong – and you’re also way smarter than Jacques and his buddy.
All four of us went to Canada, leaving Barry to watch the lab and Arthur to play chaperon for Hana, because passports weren’t necessary for this trip – we had a full Royal Canadian Mounted Police escort all the way from the border crossing to the wildlife station closest to the problem, and they stayed with us the entire time we were there. For our protection, according to them, because reasons. ‘Reasons’ being that they’d heard aaalll about the harassment we’d been getting at home, and the attempt on my life in particular, and they’d been told to make sure nothing happened to any of us while we were in Canada. And let me tell you, it didn’t, because those guys were badasses along the lines of Don Rocket, every single one of them.
Of course, we hadn’t even been there two days before the station was besieged by a pack of waheela, because why just make one pair of dangerous new predators when you can make a whole bunch? I’m pretty sure the Mounties would have beaten Jacques to death if he’d been there. But Jacques was trapped in the very tiny wildlife station right in the middle of the waheelas’ new territory, and Jacques’ buddy had disappeared and thereby become a manhunting exercise for all the other Mounties in Canada.
Being trapped with a bunch of Mounties was actually pretty neat. They shot a waheela for us to study, and we were able to verify that the mix was what Jacques had copped to it being. And also that the mod kit his missing buddy had scrounged up had more than likely been made by someone who’d gotten hold of the stuff from the Chinese mod-factory, either that or there was a new one going now – I called half the planet that very afternoon, and by all accounts Interpol had a fucking fit when half the planet turned right around and called them to find out how exactly that might have happened and why they weren’t already on it.
Interpol called the Canadian government a couple of days later wanting to have a little talk with Jacques’ buddy Rolf, and were disappointed to find out that the waheelas had gotten him before the Mounties could – he’d been trying to drag a freshly-modded mating pair cross-country to give them to some equally stupid person in Saskatchewan. And he’d most likely died right in the middle of the realization that maybe he should have listened to us, but that’s neither here nor there. Interpol also very politely asked Canada if they could quietly fly the four of us over to Norway, because apparently the Norwegians had more than one mod problem going on in their neck of the woods and had been informed that they needed to get that shit taken care of before something decided to migrate to a neighboring country. Or before Interpol decided they’d been playing footsie with the factory in China, which is probably the threat that got them to agree to ask for help.
Now, you might be asking yourself right now why Interpol isn’t also giving us the side-eye, since we make mods for countries all over the world. Simple answer: They’ve already investigated the shit out of our lab, and talked to all our clients, and they know they can trust us. Well, as much as an organization like that can afford to trust anyone, but still, we’re on their nice list. And we okayed them having some Laughing Dogs for their own use, and they apparently really liked it that the contract was very much about protecting the dogs from unscrupulous, unscientific breeding practices – turns out Interpol doesn’t have a very positive view of the international dog breeders circuit because some of its members keep trying to smuggle their dogs around in weird ways to avoid fees and fines and, well, rules. And Interpol agents apparently do not like finding dead dogs in deliberately mislabled packing crates, or drugged, dehydrated puppies in suitcases.
Anyway, the Canadian government put us on a plane to Norway – and let me tell you, it was so nice not to get molested going through security – and Interpol met us at the airport on the other end. They took us to a hotel for the night and gave us all of the reports they had, some of which were scary as hell and we told them so. And I had a – polite – go of my own at the worried Norwegian official who showed up with Interpol the next morning, through his translator, because this shit was way beyond a few monkey-modded sex workers robbing their johns.
Turns out Norway had a troll problem, and that was why they’d been ignoring the hulder – in the grand scheme of things, nobody really gave a shit if the current price for hooking up with a pro in some areas was getting mugged by something you wouldn’t have wanted to be blown by anyway. Because the trolls were killing people, possibly even eating them, and the Norwegian government had been doing everything they could to keep people from finding out while they tried desperately to get the problem under control. And it was a serious problem. They’d sent out hunters – professional hunters, the kind they’d call on to deal with a man-attacking bear or wolf – and some dead trolls had come back.
All of them different, as in no two the same. The only thing they all had in common was some characteristics of native mountain goats, like the horns and the woolly coat. Including the one that looked way more human than a fully animal mod should; that one had been living under a bridge. So Norway didn’t have a DIY mod problem…Norway had a rogue modder problem.
We told them that. “Someone is out there, probably up in the mountains or at least near them, and that person or group of people are the ones making trolls. They either have a lab hidden out there somewhere – somewhere safe from discovery and trolls – or else they’re getting custom kits off the black market.”
“Possibly the same source Canada got theirs, do you think?” the senior Interpol agent asked. He was a middle-aged South African man who’d told us to call him Agent Ben – apparently he’d gotten tired of hearing people butcher his full family name, so he just went by the first three letters of it when he was working. “I checked in this morning, we now think the factory in China has re-formed, or at least another one sprang up to take its place.”
“Oh that’s just great.” Dave ran a hand through his hair. “I know you guys have already looked around the labs here, but have you checked the universities yet?”
Agent Ben raised an eyebrow. “You think students could do this?”
“We’ve seen students get talked into things like this by someone who convinces them they’re doing something good and necessary.”
Agent Ben nodded; Interpol knew all about the tree people, of course, it was the first modding case we’d gotten them called in on. “I will have someone check, if they haven’t already. They have probably checked the genetics departments already…”
“Geneticists might be the obvious suspects, but not the most likely ones,” I told him, which did seem to surprise him. I shook my head. “Students in genetics, especially graduate students, have legitimate access to research and facilities for testing different facets of zipper theory – it’s the hot thing right now in our field, everyone wants to see if they can make their own professional mark with it. And someone who’s wanting to do that…well, there’s no way they’re buying a pre-mixed kit from some guy in a dark alley, or getting it through the mail from Hong Kong, they’d be making their own. They’d have to make their own, or their research won’t count for anything.”
“Could also be conspiracy theorists, or end-of-the-world types – do you have those here?” Joey asked the Norwegian official through his translator. The man looked confused by the question. “Do you have any groups here, maybe religious in nature, who believe the end of the world is coming and might want to help it along?”
“Terrorists?” the translator asked. Joey shook his head, so she did her best to explain it his way. The official reacted to that with what could only be described as a rant, waving his hands and everything, and kept going even when she shook her head and apparently tried to correct him about something. Finally he wound down and she turned back to Joey. “I’m sorry, he thinks you mean the people who play role-playing games in the woods. He doesn’t like them very much, he’s been looking for a reason to ban such groups.”
“No, we don’t mean LARPers,” Pete said. With surprising calmness, considering he is one. “He means something like a doomsday cult. Or maybe a group who believes modern society is evil and wrong? Not people playing games for fun, more like religious fanatics.”
She ran that one back through to the official, and he asked a question which made her roll her eyes and correct him again, rather more sharply this time. Which made him surly, and she huffed and said something else that…well, if he’d been a canine, his ears and tail would have been drooping. He said something in a much calmer tone of voice, and she nodded, slipping back into translator mode. “I’m sorry, I got carried away. We do not have any active cults such as you speak of at present.” He said something else. “There were a few, maybe twenty years ago? That is why I do not like the live-action gamers here, I am afraid they will reawaken something our country is better off without. We are a modern country; the old stories need to stay in the past where they belong.”
I put a hand on Pete’s arm to keep him from taking that one. “Since someone seems to be going to quite a bit of trouble and expense to re-create your country’s legends,” I said, “I’m thinking whoever that is doesn’t agree with you.” I had a brainstorm. “Or it’s possible they agree with you a little too much; maybe it’s someone who wants to teach the fantasy-lovers a lesson by making those creatures real.”
He looked more than a little taken aback by that. “That isn’t logical!”
Agent Ben shrugged. “Fanatics rarely are.” He stood up. “I have arranged for you gentlemen to have access to the samples which were taken, and to examine the bodies of the creatures.” He made a face. “The most recently killed one is not with the rest, however.”
“Is it in the morgue?” I asked, and he nodded. “I can go look at that one while the guys get started on the others. It might have started out as a human being…or it could have been an animal modded with human, which would mean it doesn’t actually belong in the morgue.”
Agent Ben just nodded, but the translator had been doing her thing and the official was horrified. “You can do that?!”
“Nobody in their right mind does that,” I told him. “Best case result would be ending up with something like the minotaurs in Florida.” He didn’t appear to get the reference, so I pulled up a picture on my phone – Jack sends them to me, he knows we like to keep up with how Manny and Bessie are doing. “This is Manny and his mate Bessie, they started out as a bull and a cow. The lab which created Manny is being watched now, because that was a serious lapse in both ethics and judgment.”
“You did not destroy them?”
“They’re sentient,” Joey explained. “And self-aware – it would have been murder. Manny and Bessie live in the big animal park at Disneyworld now, they’re very well taken care of there and they’re safe from people who might try to kill them for being what they are.” He inclined his head. “We really wish you’d call off the hunters here, Minister, at least temporarily, until we can figure out what we’re dealing with. While we completely agree with your decision to protect your people by hunting down some admittedly dangerous, even deadly creatures…some of them might not be entirely animal, and as sentient human-modded creatures they might decide you’re waging war on them and band together. Which could be a really, really bad thing.”
“Should we call out the army?”
“No.” That was Agent Ben. “No, that would be a mistake – it would possibly drive our true target to hide themselves or even leave the country, making our job that much more difficult.”
“True,” I agreed. “There is something you could do, though: Can you capture some of the hulder? Because we really need to talk to them, we need to find out if they’re connected to the same group that’s churning out trolls or if it’s just a coincidence that they’ve both showed up in the country at the same time. And we also need to find out if they’re safe or not.”
He waved that off. “They are just prostitutes, criminals.”
I scowled, which seemed to startle him but for some reason made Agent Ben perk right up. “They’re modified humans,” I corrected coldly. This guy was really a stuffy bastard. “And either they had a reason to let someone do that to them, or it was done against their will – either way, they’re stuck. Unless you have a circus hiring in the area they can’t work, they may have turned to crime because they didn’t feel they had any other choice.”
The official’s mouth was open but nothing was coming out, and Agent Ben stepped back in with a roll of his eyes. “I will have my people do it,” he said. “Minister, if you would please, call in the hunters and have the roads into the area blocked and guarded. And I would suggest you make a public statement, and quickly, regarding the true nature of the situation.” He smiled, and it was a little sharky. “Thanks to us, you can tell them that you have already taken steps to control the situation, that you have called on experts to assist you. And you should perhaps prepare your staff to receive many communications from people who have questions or who believe they have seen something.”
The official made a face, but he nodded. He left soon afterward, and we gathered up what we needed and left with Agent Ben. He took Dave, Joey and Pete to the place where the other bodies had been taken, and one of his people took me to the city morgue. Agent Sorenson was very obviously native to Scandinavia, and he was also able to serve as a translator. “My parents were in diplomatic service,” he explained. “They had hoped I might follow my mother’s footsteps, but I did not always care to be diplomatic.”
“I have to work at it pretty hard sometimes,” I agreed with him. “You should compare notes with Dr. Montoya – he’s from a family of medical doctors, but he decided to become a biochemist.”
“I shall make time to speak with him, we will share stories,” Agent Sorenson agreed, pleased. He was younger than Agent Ben by about ten years. We were at the morgue by now, and he flashed his ID and got us escorted downstairs to the morgue where a gray-haired woman in a lab coat was waiting for us. “This is Dr. Hansen,” Sorenson introduced after a short exchange with her in Norwegian. “She is glad you are here, she doesn’t know what to think about this body. And she asks if you have ever been in a morgue before?”
I nodded at her. “Yes, I have.” I held out my hand. “Dr. Darling, Dr. Hansen.”
Another question, which Sorenson translated, and I smiled at her; sometimes I get irritated when people question my credentials due to my perceived age, but this woman was old enough to be my grandmother and I probably did look like a baby to her. “I have a PhD in genetics – I’m thirty-one, Doctor. So what are your observations about the body so far? The pictures I saw looked like it had been modded with mountain goat, like the others.”
She started to answer that, then she frowned and took my arm, pulling me farther into the morgue – to her workstation, where she opened a browser window and pulled up an online translator. [This is easier?]
I grinned, took the chair next to her as indicated and typed back, [I do this with Hana all the time. She is mute.] She looked a question at me, so I showed her one of Hana’s latest selfies. [A modder who calls himself Doc did that. We are protecting her, and trying to fix her voice.]
She nodded back. [This body is like nothing I have ever seen. I can see the goat. I can see something else, and a man inside. Is it a man, or a monster?]
[We don’t use the word monster. We say creature.] I responded. [I will need to look at the creature, and test a blood sample. It may be a man who was modified. Or it may be an animal modified with the DNA of a man. I hope it isn’t that one. That would be a horrible thing.] Sorenson piped up at that point – in Norwegian – and I smiled. “Translator made a mess of that?”
“Quite,” he told me. “This is a good idea she had, though – easier for both of you, and I need only make corrections. And the word you want is skapning.”
“Thanks.” Dr. Hansen and I carried on our typed conversation a bit longer, discussing the results of the tests she’d already done and the tests I wanted to do, and then it was time to see the creature up close and personal. She’d already done an autopsy, but he was all back together now and she’d just been waiting for someone to decide what they were supposed to do with him. I had what I needed with me to run a blood test, borrowing her microscope – and it was a really nice one, which I mentioned and she very smugly patted my head and said something that was laughingly translated as ‘perks of seniority’ by Sorenson.
I didn’t really need the second blood test after running the first sample, but I did it anyway just to be thorough and then sent the results of all of it to Pete. Dave called me back ten minutes later. “I just told Agent Ben he needs to find the bastards who did this and kill them,” he said. “You’re looking at the same base mod we are, bear to ape to goat – a musk ox, not a mountain goat – and then someone fifty-fiftied yours to human.”
The hair stood up on the back of my neck. “Base mod?”
“Base mod, and locally grown except for the ape. So far we’ve got what I’m going to call troll-base topped off with boar, one with moose, and one with a fucking beaver. Either they were just fucking around to see what would happen or they’re really committed to species diversity. Yours is the only one that was fifty-fiftied, though, the others seem to have all been done at ten.”
“So just cosmetic, then.” Sorenson was translating that for Dr. Hansen, and she looked horrified; I couldn’t blame her. “Except for this one.”
“Except for that one, but…they said he’d been living under a bridge? Maybe that was why, maybe they wanted a troll that would interact with humans. And Joey says the base alone would be territorial as hell, so if they made that one and then parked it near a bridge…well, instant fairy tale the minute anything else tries to cross said bridge.”
“Yeah, but not the kind with a happy ending.” I thought for a minute. “I think this one should be cremated and buried. Fifty-fifty…”
“…Is still half human, yeah, I agree. Bring a sample spread when you come over here, though, so we can put it with the others.”
“Can do, thanks Dave.” I disconnected, and addressed the question I could see forming in Dr. Hansen’s mouth. “A sample spread is blood, hair and skin, one inch of each,” I explained. “We vacuum seal them on a labeled card, and store the cards in a special case that keeps them at ten degrees Celsius in dehumidified air. Dr. Cristal came up with it. We can give you the specs if you want, it’s relatively inexpensive to implement and it makes long-term sample storage a lot easier.”
“May we have the specs as well?” Sorenson wanted to know. “Our agency could use that.”
“Sure, just ask Dr. Cristal – I think he probably still has the packet he gave to the ASPCA back home, they’re using it too.”
“No patent?” Dr. Hansen wanted to know.
I shrugged. “He calls it the Cristal Single-Subject Specimen Storage System and he has a trademark filed on that term, he even published a paper about it, but it’s not really a patentable process. He and Mr. Kelekolio do some contract work setting up custom versions of C-Quint-S and integrating it into existing systems, but if someone wants to do it themselves he doesn’t mind. He says knowledge should be free, experience is what you pay for.”
She liked that, and asked Sorenson to arrange for she and the person in charge of the lab’s budget to talk to Joey and Pete before we left the country – after the trolls and the hulder had been taken care of, of course. And then we were off to join up with the others at the private lab that had been commandeered for the troll emergency, because working with international law enforcement gets you even better perks than seniority does.
We were just about done with the samples from the specimens we had when the police and their Interpol escorts showed up with one of the supposed prostitutes. She had her face covered with a scarf arrangement, and while the police were busy talking to Agent Ben about her I waved Sorenson over and asked what her name was. She chattered a little when she talked, similar to the sound Hana makes sometimes when she gets upset, so it was hard for either one of us to understand her, but her name sounded like Mika. “Mika, did you ask for this modification?” I asked her. “Was this something you asked someone to do to you?”
She cocked her head. Her features even with the concealing scarf were very simian – luckily one of the cuter species and not something like an orangutan, but still very much more monkey than human. She batted her eyelashes at me and said something, and Sorenson cleared his throat. “She asks if you like what you see.”
I looked up at him. “You’re kidding.” He shook his head, so I tried again. “Mika, who changed you?”
More chatter-talk – and more eyelash action. “She says one-hundred kroner to…all right, I am not repeating that. I think you get the idea.”
“Yeah, unfortunately.” I patted his arm. “Sorry, Agent Sorenson.” She chattered some more and he turned bright red. “I think I got the gist of that one without translation,” I told him. I backed off a little, moving him back at the same time, and she started to growl. “Uh oh. Mika, what’s wrong? Why are you angry?”
Chattering. “She asks if you only like pretty girls.”
I was pretty sure that wasn’t exactly what she’d asked, but I was starting to get a funny feeling about this. “Does it sound to you like she’s reading off a script?” He nodded, and I had a horrible thought. I waved over one of the police officers. “Could you ask him for me if she just kept repeating herself when they spoke to her?”
Sorenson asked, and the officer nodded and replied. “All reports have been the same. They proposition a man who is looking at them, then ask for a hundred kroner to perform a sexual act – which is very cheap for a prostitute here – and then if the person refuses they ask if he only likes to stick his dick in a pretty girl’s mouth.”
Hearing the officer say it seemed to have confused her. I swallowed. “What happens if the person doesn’t refuse?” He and Sorenson both looked horrified, and I shook my head. “You said that was cheap for a prostitute, someone’s bound to have not cared that she looks like a monkey.”
The word had no sooner left Sorenson’s mouth than Mika screamed in rage and jumped at us. Sorenson pulled me away from her and the cop grabbed her arm – she was still cuffed – and got her tail wrapped around his throat for his trouble. Sorenson immediately moved back in to try to help contain her, the other cop came running, and I found myself being moved more out of the way by Agent Ben as he put himself between me and Mika and kept the rest of the guys back with a sharp gesture. “No, stay back!” he ordered. “Sorenson, use the taser!”
Sorenson followed orders, and one crackle of electricity later Mika was twitching on the floor and making a high whining noise in her throat. The scarf had come off in the struggle. “Jesus,” I said. “What is that, eighty percent? Ninety?”
Joey shuddered. “Or maybe ten or twenty in the other direction.” I stared up at him in horror. “You know it’s possible, Danny. And with the parroted dialog she was doing…well, it could be training.” Now the Interpol agents were getting interested in this, and he nodded to Agent Ben. “We need to secure this one and run our tests immediately, it’s possible this isn’t a modded human – she may be a human-modded monkey, and if that’s the case somebody trained her to do what she’s been doing.”
Sorenson was quietly translating, and one of the cops asked a question. “He wants to know if they should round up the rest of them,” he passed along. “And are they dangerous?”
“If these are monkey base modded with human, then yes, they’re very dangerous,” Joey agreed. “But they also must have a trainer or a keeper or something, because that would be where the money they steal is going. The keeper would probably also be providing their food and clothes and housing somewhere near the area they’ve been working in.”
Agent Ben was nodding. “Could it be the same people?”
“Yes.” Joey didn’t even hesitate. “Modding isn’t cheap, this could be their funding source, or at least part of it. And we already know they’ve done this at least once with one of their trolls.”
The cop asked another question through Sorenson. “So this is a bad person, then?”
“A completely unethical person,” Joey confirmed. “And probably extremely dangerous – honestly, if you’re going in after them, be prepared for anything.”
Agent Ben shook his head. “Your local department may not be equipped to handle this alone,” he told the cop. “We will go with you, and these men will stay and finish their tests – they are the experts we are borrowing from Canada, they were already there helping to solve another ‘creature’ problem when we found out about yours.”
It took them a long time to get back, more than enough time for us to finish all of the tests. And the news we had for Agent Ben… “As near as we can tell, these mods came from the same source,” I told him. “So either the troll-makers and the hulder-makers are both using the same supplier or it’s just all one group making everything. Mika started out life as a black-headed spider monkey, Ateles fusciceps, and then she was modded with approximately thirteen percent human female to make her look the way she does.”
“She’s been trained to say and do certain things by rote,” Joey added. “So just like a talking bird or a trained bear. And just like any other animal, that training didn’t happen overnight.”
Agent Ben was looking grim. “So this was planned very carefully.”
“Very,” I confirmed. “And it puts all of us in the middle of a huge ethical dilemma. These particular creatures aren’t human, but they are semi-sentient and they’ve been rigorously trained to speak and act in certain ways that give them the illusion of being more human than they are.”
“They’re also violent – partly by nature, partly from training,” Dave put in. “But even worse…they have the intelligence of both species. We talked to some experts, and they all told us the only option you’d have for containment would be a prison-type environment while you tried – and they did emphasize tried – to retrain them. Because this sort of operant conditioning apparently isn’t easy to undo in a human, and in a monkey it would be damn near impossible.”
Agent Ben nodded. “So whether retraining works or not, we would still need to find a permanent place to put them. They would need to remain imprisoned for life?”
“They would almost have to,” Joey said. “Monkeys are vicious. Humans are vicious. And because of the way they’ve been trained to interact with humans, not to mention the way they look, no zoo is going to be able to take them.” He cocked his head. “How many…”
“Counting the one we already captured, one dozen,” Agent Ben said. “They cannot be euthanized?”
We looked at each other. “If the choice is between that and a lifetime isolated in prison,” I told him, “then euthanasia might be the kinder option, yes. Because they were changed just enough…if a human male got at them, or they got at him, it’s possible breeding could happen. And it’s also possible the same thing could happen with a male monkey.”
“At which point we’d have a much larger problem on our hands,” Pete said. “I ran the projections, and I called back to our lab to have our assistant run them again on the big system. If we tried to put them on a preserve – which is what most people would think was the best solution, and what we’d normally suggest – and they started breeding with other monkeys, they’d end up creating a new evolutionary line. We’d be creating a species that would eventually enter into competition with us.”
“And that’s a competition we’d lose.” Dave ran a hand through his hair. “I don’t want to see these creatures killed out of hand, none of us do – what they are isn’t their fault. But at the same time, letting them live may not be the best option either.”
“Because you do not know how to reverse this process.”
He’d thrown that one at me, and I felt myself flush. “No,” I told him, refusing to look away from the accusation. “We don’t. No one does. Not yet.”
His eyes were boring down into mine. “Then you will take responsibility for doing what needs to be done?”
There it was. “If that’s what has to be done, yes.”
He nodded. “Very well, once we have contained the criminals responsible for this, that is the solution I will recommend.”
He left again not long after that, and I went back into the lab and sat on a stool and looked at Mika. The semi-sentient creature I had just agreed to kill.
Needless to say, nobody got much sleep that night. The guys were pissed – not at me, at Agent Ben. I wasn’t, not really. He had just called it like he saw it: A bunch of scientists running around doing things they couldn’t undo, playing god, creating problems other people had to clean up, and he didn’t want to be responsible for that. He wanted us to clean it up ourselves.
I said as much to Joey the next morning when we got back to the lab, because he was muttering under his breath, and Dave almost took my head off. “Dammit, Danny, this is not our fault! They called us, remember?”
“That’s exactly why he wants us to take responsibility for fixing it,” I told him, trying to focus on the slide I had under my microscope. “Because that’s why they called us.” Dead silence. I sighed and straightened, rubbing my chest when the scar tissue pulled and hurt – it does that sometimes, because of the way the scar healed. Reminds me that I shouldn’t have been slouching, I guess. “What exactly does getting mad at him for seeing this situation in black and white do for us, Dave? Tell me that.”
His jaw set. “What about me getting mad at him for backing you into agreeing to kill these creatures doesn’t seem reasonable to you, Danny, huh? Why, exactly, are we all supposed to be okay with that?”
“Dammit, you’re the geneticist here,” Joey snapped. “And like it or not that makes you the face of our company. So you didn’t just take responsibility for you, you took it for GenoMod.”
Okay, I guess they were mad at me. “You’re right, I did.” I slid off my stool and faced him down. Well, up. “Because if I hadn’t, he’d have never respected us again. Not that I think he did in the first place, not after that…but his professional respect is something we have to have.”
“Because his professional opinion is Interpol’s opinion,” Pete agreed quietly. “And if they decide they don’t like us, we’re screwed and a half. It was a lose-lose situation, probably from the beginning?”
I nodded. “Yeah, I think so.” I walked to the lab door, held it open. “Okay, everyone out. It’s obviously time to take a break.”
And holy crap, I did not think it was going to work, but sure enough all three of them got up and walked out…and then I shut the door behind them and locked it. And went back to my microscope, where I had been looking at the samples taken from the bridge troll. Because I was starting to get the inklings of an idea that might just keep us from being used as murderers for hire.
Two hours later I unlocked the door and walked out of the lab, right past my three angry partners and out the front door. A car had just pulled up, and the agent who got out – I’m just assuming he was one – handed me a package and then asked if I needed anything else. I told him not for a few more hours, and then I went back inside and back into the lab, shutting the door again but not bothering to lock it because everyone was already back inside. I ignored them, unpacked my package and got to work.
An hour later, I had a syringe full of mod-activator serum in my hand, and a pre-packaged needle full of sedative. Mika was alternating between snapping at me and trying to proposition me, but Joey managed to sedate her and the second her eyes closed I injected her with the serum. And then I pulled up a stool and waited; the guys did the same. We didn’t need to see the change all the way through to the end in this case, we just needed to see enough to know it was happening the way we wanted it to.
A few more hours went by, and everything was going the way I’d hoped it would so we got to work making up eleven more doses of serum and then called for a ride to take us to the police station where the other captured hulder were being held. I’d originally wanted them to be brought to us, but apparently that wasn’t doable. And once we were there, it was easy to see why: they had them all in the same cell. I managed to stick a few of them by having a policeman catch arms that flailed out from between the bars to swipe at us, but they eventually figured that out – they’re smart, remember? – and the next time we tried it he got bitten and I got swatted into a wall. They had to resort to a low-powered taser after that, but finally all of the creatures were sedated and then we were able to shoot them all up with mod serum.
After which I sat down on the floor to watch them change, rubbing the bump I could feel on the back of my head. Hours passed, and the creatures in the cell twisted and writhed and shrank. After a certain point I told the agent to get us some animal cages, but when I tried to help cage the creatures up Pete stopped me and he and Joey stepped in so I just leaned against the wall and watched. Joey let them know that they were going to have to put key-locks on the cages, and then while they were doing that I told the agent to find a zoo willing to take a dozen medium-sized female monkeys and offered to explain to them about the issues they might have and the precautions they’d need to take. And then I asked him if he could take us back to our hotel, which he did, and I took a shower and fell into bed. Not like I’d gotten any sleep the night before, you know.
The following morning I had a headache, and then Agent Ben showed up and made it worse. “You said no one could reverse it! You turned them back into monkeys!”
“No, I modded them into being more monkey than they were,” I corrected. “A smaller, less aggressive species. Thus solving the containment problem.” I took a sip of my coffee – which wasn’t doing as much for the headache as I wanted it to – and looked him right in the eye the way he’d done to me two days before. “You brought us here to work with you, because we’re experts in this field,” I said. “I don’t personally care what you think about the science I’ve devoted my career to; I deal with people all the time who think I’m a monster for one reason or another. But our company is made up of more than just me, and we have a reputation as ethical scientists because we are ethical scientists.”
“We do and have euthanized animals if there is no other option,” Joey told him. “The key phrase there being ‘no other option’. Dr. Darling spent all day yesterday coming up with another option.” He gave Agent Ben a cool little smile. “I’m sure you didn’t want us to kill a dozen innocent creatures, right?”
And Agent Ben…backed off. “It is safe for a zoo to take them now?”
Pete nodded. “The local zoo doesn’t have room, but I made some calls this morning and found three that wouldn’t mind having them. They could each take four, and the creatures will be spayed so it will be safe to let them interact with other monkeys.”
“We’ll finalize that deal via conference call, as soon as it’s convenient for you and them,” I told him. Honestly, we were pushing and we knew it, but we’d all been worried he might want to kill the creatures anyway. “So now our only remaining problems are the trolls, and the monsters who created them and the hulder.”
He nodded slowly. “The keeper is still at large. The house he was occupying with his creatures has been found, but he had fled. We have tightened security on the airports and the roads, and the government has brought the hunters back out as well as soldiers to search for the source of the trolls.” He cocked an eyebrow. “Can you…”
I shook my head. “No. And I did look into it already. If we tried to re-mod one of the trolls, the results aren’t going to be predictable or desirable.” I raised an eyebrow back at him. “Normally in a case like this, we’d suggest having a preserve set up. That keeps the creatures safe, the people safe, and the tourists bringing in money for the area.”
“Which also pays for the upkeep on the preserve, so a win-win,” Dave added. “That’s what Arizona did with their raptors, and what Canada is going to try to do with the waheela. But I’m not sure the official we spoke to when we arrived here would be in agreement with a plan like that.”
Agent Ben thought about that for a minute. “Perhaps not, but the rest of his government might be – tourism is down, and the money from the ski resorts does not trickle down the mountains into the towns and cities as much as some would like. But if we find more like the one which was sent to the morgue…”
“Then we’ll have to check to find out what we’re dealing with,” Joey told him. “The hulder were semi-sentient, they weren’t entirely self-aware…but they’d only been modded at thirteen percent – that’s still 87% monkey. The bridge troll was a fifty-fifty, meaning they made a troll base and then modded that to half human.”
He was horrified, visibly horrified, and I knew he’d finally gotten it. “So if someone shoots them…”
“It should be considered self-defense, whether the creature is attacking them or not,” I said. “One of the reasons GenoMod has never messed around with human DNA is because humans are a vicious, territorial species all on their own. Mix that with other predators – in the case of the trolls, three of them – and you’re likely to end up with a killing machine.”
“Our government tried it, back when practical applications of zipper theory were in their infancy,” Dave said. “They took human subjects and modded them with wolverine DNA. All of the subjects had to be destroyed. When we found out about that, we swore we would never be that stupid.”
Agent Ben nodded, huffing out a frustrated breath. “I am sorry,” he said. “I was not meaning to insult you, or question your ethics. This, however…” he indicated the situation with a jerky wave of his hand, “is frustrating to me. I am not a man of science, I am an agent of the law. And the law is often running to catch up with science…and often we cannot run fast enough.”
“We understand that,” I told him. “That’s why we always agree to help when we can.” I waved my own hand at the animal cage where Mika was sitting, chewing on a piece of fruit. I’d used a white-headed capuchin monkey for the mod, so she was a lot cuter now and only about the size of a medium-sized dog. “We don’t want to see things like this happen any more than you do.”
He nodded again. “I will contact someone else in the government here, and arrange for them to speak with you about a preserve once we have caught the people who are making it necessary.”
“If there are any more human-modded trolls, we can put them in touch with our contact in Florida who handles the minotaurs,” Joey added. “We do keep in touch with him to see how they’re doing, so we know the animal park there hasn’t had an problems with containment so far.”
That had been another preemptive strike, of course – we didn’t want him to get the idea that the human-modded trolls all had to be killed. I think Agent Ben knew it, too, but all he did was agree that might be helpful and then take his leave. And we went back to work, because there wasn’t anything else for us to do until someone found the source of the trolls.
Three days later, we got word that the base up in the mountains had been found, and the day after that Agent Sorenson came to get us to take us up there. “It is bad,” he said. “They were armed, and there were many trolls as well as some other creatures. They had a feeding station for the trolls, to keep them in the area.”
“Did they say why they did it?” Pete wanted to know.
Sorenson shook his head. “They were not taken alive. When we forced our way into the building, we found that three of them had taken their own lives. Two others attempted to escape and were killed by something which pulled them into the water. The records they left behind, however, mark them as a branch of a terrorist organization.”
We all looked at each other. “Why would terrorists want to create mythical creatures?”
“To force the people to turn to God,” Sorenson said. “It is a religious cult which began in China.”
“Linked to the old mod kit factory?” Dave guessed.
Sorenson shrugged. “We do not know; we need you to see if there is a connection with the materials and processes which were being used.”
The troll factory was up in the mountains, surrounded by dense woods and a lot of mist, and it was obvious from our first look that both money and expertise had gone into building it. Concrete block walls, electrified fences, zoo-quality pens and mini-habitats. There was a good-sized pond behind the building, and it had three creatures in it that watched every movement on shore, like alligators with their eyes above the water and everything else below the surface. Sorenson and the paperwork that hadn’t been destroyed said they were nökken, man-eating water creatures compounded from alligator, horse, and seal. There were more water creatures in a tank inside the building, smaller ones that looked like a live Fiji mermaid but that were apparently supposed to be something called draugen. Sorenson actually laughed at those, he said they were mini-draugen at best.
He stopped laughing when we found the big ones. Thankfully they were dead, apparently the mod hadn’t worked out right and they’d drowned and been put in cold storage for further study. It looked like the idea had been to make them into a water version of the bridge troll.
A few hours later, we had proved the components in the kits used were identical to the ones from the dismantled factory in China, and Interpol had found the link and proved that Joey had been right about the reason for the creation of the creatures: Two employees who had escaped the raid on the factory had been recruited and protected by a cult called Eastern Lightning, and they had reconnected the factory’s supply lines to a new project called Ancient Fire. Norway had been their first big target, due to its recent and highly-publicized decision to stop having an official state church as part of its government – the idea had been to show the world that ‘rejecting God has consequences’. That’s a quote, because they had brochures, a whole case of them they’d been planning to distribute once the rest of their creatures were in place and the situation had gotten too big to for the government to keep quiet.
Interpol mostly kept our names out of the international shit-show that followed, flying us quietly back to Canada, and Canada swore we’d been there the entire time and had only been consulting with Interpol over the phone from the wildlife station using an international relay. And while they were doing that, we used our brand-new overmod process to make their existing waheela a little smaller and less lethal – ten percent white pomeranian mod took them down from superpredator to regular predator and made them fluffier and whiter to boot, so everybody was happy. Especially the Mounties, who wanted to know if they could request a similar mod they could use the way the police back in the States were using Laughing Dogs; the Laughing Dogs didn’t have a heavy enough coat to handle Canada’s winters, so we agreed to work with them to come up with an equivalent suitable for use in northern countries.
We were back home a week later and hard at work almost the minute we walked in the door. Joey was working on the RCMP project with Pete, and Dave and I were fine-tuning our new discovery and working on a paper to present at the next genetics conference. Overmodding wasn’t a reversal, but we were getting closer.