Just put the last touches on my third novel written and the first which doesn't embarrass me enough that I just let the first draft languish on my hard-drive.
Hope it's not toooo presumptuous to ask for a little helpful feedback on a short extract? I'll post it just in case :).
Flesh bodies of any kind are not permitted in the Unicorp genecraft-department; shells and synths can be cleaned in ways which would destroy a human body and the delicate experiments carried out here necessitate the highest standard of cleanliness. Consequently the department facilities smell like the inside of a new shoe, straight out of the box.
Shapeless masses of flesh float in huge tanks while gene-craftsmen in specially adapted shells scamper around taking measurements, checking read-outs and altering the chemical compositions of various nutrient baths, while their incorporeal supervisors watch over the proceedings from their projection fields like officious lava-lamps.
It is the most officious supervisor of the lot who greets me. The pulsing blot of his electronic soul is too smooth as I follow his labour-synths around, pretending to inspect the workstations and inventing queries about the progress of his department, which he ensures me is ‘well on schedule’. I move to the topic of Chin-Phen cautiously, tossing in a vague ‘concern for his safety’ justification for my interest.
“Yes, I’ve heard the rumour,” the supervisor’s spark hums. “And it’s just that, a rumour. That insane artist never worked for this department.”
“My board isn’t so sure,” I say, feigning impatience. “After all, where else could he have acquired his expertise? Not to mention his equipment, money, grounds...”
“Not from here. Vulgar genetic design like that is practiced at street level, you must’ve seen it: those kids’ toys that are all the rage at the moment. They’re the work of gene-craftsmen, but it’s very basic stuff- little furry things that perish in a day or two. The work we perform here is essential to the survival of the city.”
“Well I’ve visited Chin-Phen’s exhibitions. And I promise you his work is much more complicated than any street-level gene-craft. To grow complex life he would’ve needed an industrial project. That kind of complexity is impossible to replicate on a small scale.”
“Well I don’t know about that.”
But he does know about it, I feel the truth buried in his spark under so many lies that only a corner pokes out for me to see. Unicorp has no general committee aside from the old men and its organs function pretty well independently from one another, almost as separate entities, with a lot of rivalry and skulduggery between them. This bastard would have no qualms about concealing his own dirty laundry from an administrator. I continue to probe, hoping to slip the truth about Chin-Phen from out of the supervisor’s mind.
“Alright, how do you think he does it?”
“Sir, respectfully, does this anything to do with your assessment? We’ve all been working double-time since the attacks. We lost a lot of staff. I thought you were supposed to be determining how best to help us, not how to waste our time?”
“Don’t even think about brushing me aside,” I retort furiously. “You’ve already dropped the ball in big way by allowing one of your gene-farms to grow priority-one illegal substances, yes I know about that. What do you think my board are thinking of doing with incompetents like you? Think you can’t be replaced? I’d be very careful; nobody in this corporation is invulnerable. Don’t forget that.”
The threat did the trick; the supervisor’s spark bunches in on itself uncomfortably.
“That farm was taken over some time ago. It was an efficient job; those miltons must have been professionals, probably with the Ascended syndicate.”
“What makes you say that? Isn’t it impossible for unscreened miltons to cross the security umbrella?”
“Apparently not,” replies the supervisor. “Haven’t you read the Sec-dept. report?”
I shake my head, running through the Lattice as the man explains to read the report for myself.
“The operator was one of those responsible for that local outbreak of white fever a year ago, do you remember?”
I do. The disease was contracted from a batch of low-quality tomatoes, a fault in the genetic code which brought on nausea, acute abdominal pain and (in two cases) perfusion. It was a disastrous scandal for the Unicorp genecraft-department and a lot of resignations were supposed to be forthcoming, but somehow never materialised.
The supervisor continues,
“It seems that the milton mob helped the operator and his staff get back into the old men’s good-books. Got them up and running again.”
I frown at this.
“Who knows? Perhaps they have contacts in the upper management.”
Contacts in the upper management? He said it so freely, so casually. My borrowed eyes narrow.
“Off the record, would you say that human-milton collaboration like this is commonplace?”
“Off the record, I think it’s been going on for years.”
That cannot be possible.
A few weeks ago I would have said it was impossible for miltons to even set foot in New Athens, now I hear that human-milton co-operation is an open secret among the Unicorp management? In all the countless times I have invaded the minds of Unicorp’s employees I have never touched on anything as foul as this.
No, he must have it wrong, I reason. He must be paranoid. Delusional. Or trying to discredit his competitors, yes, that must be it. I could never have made such an absurd oversight. Besides, that gene-farmer was clearly terrified of being discovered, if the Ascended and Unicorp were in cahoots as his protectors then he would have had nothing to worry about. I shake my head and blink once or twice, putting this nonsense out of my head and pressing on for the information I need.
“Even if true, I find it hard to believe that the farm could have been manufacturing slash for any extended period of time without somebody noticing.”
“Well the farm never failed to make the weekly quota- it was supposed to be used for cloning crops. Tomatoes, corn and so on.”
“How could they’ve met the quota and still have cloned all that slash?”
“That’s the clever part, the part that convinces me those miltons were professionals. They hybridised the plants.”
“You mean they blended their genes together.”
“They hybridised the illegal plants with mundane crops so that they could come up with the food we needed to meet our quota, but the illegal chemical could still be extracted. The Seraphim and Sec-teams who swept the farm recovered hybrid tomato stalks- they produced fruit but the leaves were rich in ergoline alkaloids.”
“Too clever for miltons.”
The spark in front of me flexes with anxiety.
“If this was an inside job, as you seem to think, how can I be sure that this department wasn’t involved? I mean, considering the nature of the crime, you should all be prime suspects.”
“I’ve heard enough. I’m suspending this entire branch for a full investigation by Sec-dept.”
Arms sprout out of the bubbling spark and wriggle around, sparking off metal equipment.
“You can’t be serious? We’re behind as it is. Anyway you don’t have the authority.”
“Are you hoping to call my bluff? Then I’ll have to just go ahead and play my hand. I’m sending a squad of cleaners to dismantle this entire department for re-shuffling.”
“You said you were interested in that artist? That Chin-Phen person?”
My shell’s face doesn’t show any of the grin that crawls onto my real lips.
“You might want to speak to a woman called Dora Hayes. She used to work for us but she was dismissed some years ago. Now she sells low-grade organic ornaments and toys from the vitro-markets, fourth municipal.”
The glass domed ‘vitros’ of the vitro-markets protect its stall-vendors from a deadly level of background radiation which emanates from the uncomfortably close Terran surface. In spite of the health-risks, benefits of shopping here as opposed to Unicorp include the lack of intrusive and god-awful sub-wave pattern advertising which gives you nightmares for days on end and the overwhelming variety of products on display. Admittedly, quality control is often less than impeccable but for every hideous bout of hallucinations and indigestion you suffer one day, you might chance on an incredible bargain the next. Enough souls are willing to risk it that when I arrive searching for Dora Hayes the markets are bustling.
The only disguise I’ll need here is an enviro-suit.
I ask around until I find the right stall; a shabby little assembly on the cheap perimeter of the vitros with colourful fabric draped over the frame and lots of cages piled everywhere housing ugly creatures; a spider made out of scrabbling fingers, little shivering balls of fur, rotting flowers that change colour every few seconds but never into a shade anyone would ever like.
“Did you want to buy something?”
The woman running the stall is a fourth or third-degree mutant, whose eyes are barely visible in her scabby face, giving her head the look of a giant blister. She doesn’t wear any kind of protective lead harness, just a filthy shawl tossed around her shoulders
“I wanted to speak to you,” I reply.
“Alright kid. Then you have to buy something.”
“I don’t have any money.”
“Well then too bad.”
“Don’t try my patience mutie.”
She laughs raggedly; I piggyback on her mind quickly and feel the radiation eating her away from inside.
“What are you going to do me, think you can make things worse for me? Fat chance; try if you like, there’s nothing you can do to me so don’t waste my time. Buy something or disappear.”
“Do you really think there’s nothing I can do?”
There is nobody watching so I grab her by the collar and drag her out of the stall. Her arms are shrunken and useless so she has no hope of struggling as I pull her to the air-tight vitro door and rest my hand on the release lever.
“You’re sure there’s nothing I can do to you? How about if I toss you out there? Even an old mutant will die out there, but more slowly than a normal person. Your insides will turn to liquid and leak out of your body while you scream and squirm. Is that how you want to go?”
The mutie woman is frightened of me, I feel it in her spark, but if I couldn’t see into her mind I wouldn’t know that she was afraid. She hangs limply in my grasp.
“You’ll do it won’t you. I don’t really want to die just yet.”
“So you’ll talk?”
“If you let me down.”
I let her down, slowly.
“Help me get back to my stall.”
“Why, can’t you walk?” I snap. She grunts and struggles back to her filthy stand while I watch.
“So what do you want that’s worth killing me over?” she asks, sweeping fat and excess protein off her workbench so that she can heat some water over a stove.
“You’re Dora Hayes?”
“You used to be a gene-craftswoman for Unicorp?”
“Tell me about Shemune Chin-Phen. Tell me everything you know about him.”
The mutant crumbles a fungus cube into her mug and pours in the water so that the water belches a brown mist.
“That old queer? Yes I know about him. It’s his damn fault that I’m living out of this tent, looking like a carbuncle. Mind if I smoke?”
“Do what you like mutie, as long as you talk.”
She lights up a cigar and sucks and sucks on it, frowning.
“This recycled crap, it’s disgusting. I’m sorry, what was I talking about? Chin-Phen and I were colleagues at Unicorp, this was long time ago. We were trying to manufacture animals, exactly like the ones that existed before C-day, the Contact war. Now you occasionally see the odd cat or bird in Lord Moneybags’ apartment but their genetic structures are duplicates and triplicates of the bits and pieces of carcasses we recovered from back before the milts came. These are old, old genes; usually the poor things don’t make it past a year before snuffing it.
“So Fogal and I, uh- that was Chin-Phen before he changed his name and his face, we were assigned to a project in which we hoped to build animals from scratch, as close to the animals that lived before the war as possible. Every chromosome was designed individually- it was a hell of a job.”
“You designed new organisms using the old genes as a template?”
My theory about the shrubs seems, for a moment, a lot more feasible, but Hayes shakes her head.
“No, the project fell through. There just weren’t enough healthy DNA strands, we were working from half a diagram of what we were supposed to be making. So we changed the programme, we tried to make whole new animals that could sustain a viable population- Unicorp called it the Noah’s Ark project. We took all sorts of ideas from old earth history and folklore; we designed dragons and unicorns and mermaids and all sorts of organisms you wouldn’t even imagine. It was a huge undertaking, very ambitious.”
“Why though?” I ask. “What’s the point of making animals? We can synthesise protein so we don’t need their meat, what was it all for?”
The mutie shrugs, puffing on her cigar.
“Because we could I suppose, it was back when the fashion was to try and bring back old Earth. The trouble was that Fogal’s had other ideas; intimidating ambitions. This was so long ago that colonisation projects on Titan had only just got going. Fogal had this big plan to populate Titan with his some of own species once it’d been terraformed, to become the God of his own little universe.”
The mutie explodes into a coughing fit so ferocious that I fear it may kill her.
“Damn it, you’re not going to die are you?” I say, feeling my patience slip.
“Not yet...not just yet.”
“You’d better not die; I need what you know about Chin-Phen. I won’t let you die until I’ve learned everything you know, understand? So hurry!”
I snatch the cigar out of her lips and press the hot end into her middle of her face.
“I lost any feeling years ago; you’re wasting your time. Sit down and I’ll try and get the rest out before I go belly up.
“The trouble was that Unicorp wasn’t as enthusiastic about Fogal’s plan as he’d hoped. The powers that be wouldn’t green-light any of his ideas because, among other things, the Nipponese had already laid claim to Titan, it was theirs. Again this was before the Unification, back when Unicorp was just one of several megacorpoations. Well, Fogal fought long and hard and, somehow, he managed to convince the old farts to negotiate with the Nips.”
“I still don’t know to this day how he pulled it off. Perhaps he caught someone screwing their secretary. Either way, the Nips gave up a postage stamp of terrain and Fogal went down to Titan with his gene-craftsmen and colonists and tried to make his plan a reality, on a more modest scale. They didn’t even get as far as making the air breathable.”
The mutant starts to cough again, it sounds as though her lungs are lined with sandpaper. I realise that the effort of speaking for so long could be enough to kill her, I don’t think she has exerted herself in a while.
“Those...converters...massive complexes. They’re basically giant thermo-nuclear reactors. One of them went into meltdown and fried a square-mile of Titan’s surface. Took out a Nipponese research centre and a civilian colony: casualties were in the hundreds.”
“That’s what started the Titan skirmishes,” I remark, thinking back to the start of the bloody conflict. “The accident, I remember that. I didn’t know it had anything to do with Chin-Phen.”
She nods, re-lighting her cigar.
“Only me, Fogal and Unicrop know the truth. The Nips weren’t best pleased, accused the New Athenians of deliberate sabotage because they saw it as a little convenient that none of Fogal’s team were on site when the station went up that day, all the work on the colony was being done remotely through the Seraphim. Everyone who died was on Nippon territory; the Nips considered it as a nuclear attack.”
She sighs and lies back in her mouldering chair while I consider that turning point in history in a new light.
After the Contact War, the human race was all too aware of how close it came to annihilation. The accident on Titan threatened more fighting, more deaths, particularly if the struggle found its way to Terra. Unicorp’s solution of total isolationism was extreme, but then so was the situation. Millions of colonists were stranded and after a surge of public approval Unicorp popularly assumed complete control of Terra.
Shemune Chin-Phen was responsible of all of that? There’s a small detail the Seraphim neglected to mention.
“Two years and a few thousand deaths later,” Hayes says, “they call a truce back home and Unicorp takes over the world; that was Unification. But the fighting is still going on in the colonies.”
“I don’t care about any of that mutie,” I lie. “I only want to know what happened to Chin-Phen.”
“He disappeared. With him gone and no-one left to take the blame, Unicorp looked to me as a scapegoat. They took my Seraph, my job, my home. Everything that wasn’t screwed on to me they took. They took away my whole life. Then a little while on this Chin-Phen character emerges and I know it’s Fogal, even with a new name and a new body it’s him, I’m certain.”
I laugh at her with incredulity.
“How could you know that?”
“Gene-craft ain’t just a science, it’s an art form,” says the mutant. “Little hints of style always give away a gene-craftsman’s work to a keen eye. They can’t be seen by the untrained but they are there. One look at that ‘Organisism’ nonsense of his and I knew; that man is Fogal Goch. I’m sure my old colleagues see it too; they’re the ones who sent you to me weren’t they? I thought so.”
Now I’m sure that I have killed Dora Hayes by forcing her to speak; it is too great a strain for her ruined body. But soon she’ll no longer be useful to me anyway, as long as the Seraphim don’t find out then it won’t matter.
“Alright, one last thing, how does he make them? He couldn’t get the money and facilities from Unicorp, so how?”
“I have no idea,” she admits. “My only thought would be that he’s having them made off-world somewhere, smuggling them in. As for where his stock comes from your guess is as good as mine.”
“Tell me how to find out how he’s doing it, there is a way isn’t there?”
“Why should I tell you anything else?”
If only Hayes could see how pleased I am to reply: “Because you know what I’m going to do to him when I get him. And you want to let it happen, for what he’s done to you.”
The monster that used to be Dora Hayes says nothing for so long that I wonder if her spark has already died in her.
“He had...an accomplice...a ward if you like. Fogal hardly ever goes outside these days; he’s scared to death of Nipponese assassins who’ve grown wise to his act. If he would trust anyone with managing his work, it’d be that man.”
“What is his name?”
“Lee Crawford. I don’t know where you might find him but...”
“I can find anybody, don’t worry about that. I’m going to find Crawford, and then I’m going to use him to get Chin-Phen.”
I rise to go but then I reconsider. I have to satiate my curiosity.
“You said you weren’t ready to die before, do you feel ready now?”
She groans. All those cranking gears of bitterness inside her that kept her going for so long are finally starting to grind.
“Not yet...Not until that fucker dies...then I’ll be ready...”
“I promise you, he will die.”
That will have to be enough, I can’t risk my secrecy and I’m certainly not prepared to suffer punishment on the behalf of this husk of a woman. I rest my palms against Dora Hayes’ temples and press my thumbs into her forehead, using only the lightest pressure at first.
And then I begin to squeeze.
Yeah, out of context, but the actual narrative is so bloody convoluted no short-ish excerpt could ever successfully summarise the whole thing (about 110k word-count wise).
Needless to say it's a bit of sci-fi twoddle with a rather nasty protagonist/narrator, the actual title is 'The Kindred-More-Review.'
I'd really appreciate some responses, cruel as you like. I'm only young and I have to learn! Seriously though, I would be very grateful for anything, anyone can offer.