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Davis, Jerry - Dna Prospector

By Nicole West,2014-06-11 23:22
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Davis, Jerry - Dna Prospector

     DNA Prospector

     ? 1997 by Jerry J. Davis

     James Gregson passed the last of the carnivorous trees and was

     halfway through the clearing before he realized there were two men

     in his camp. One sat on a log and the other on his chair, relaxing,

     making themselves right at home. Not far away was a black and red

     jeep, and on the jeep's door was the Bankrightk company logo.

     One of the men looked up as Gregson approached. Gregson didn't

     seem much of a threat; he was tall but good-natured looking, with

     curly black hair and brown eyes. In his arms, however, was a long,

     elegantly crafted electronic rifle.

     "Look at the size of that stunner!" The man exclaimed,

     laughing. He was thin, small, and had a pinched-looking face. He

     wore an gray-green jumpsuit with what looked like 50

     randomly-placed pockets, and had a name-tag that read, JACKO. "What

     is it, a hundred years old?"

     The other man, who was taller, rounder of features, wore all

     black and was carrying a 10mm projectile pistol. His shirt bore the

     Bankrightk logo and underneath was the stitched-in name RUDD. "We

     hear you're really onto something, Gregson," he said.

     "I don't appreciate you coming into my camp like this,"

     Gregson said. "This area is staked and registered to me, and you're

     trespassing."

     "Hey, you don't have to go all huffy with us," said Jacko.

     "We're here to offer you a position with Bankrightk."

     "A job?"

     Jacko nodded.

     "Prospecting?" Gregson asked.

     "DNA prospecting."

     "For what? A salary?"

     "Salary, expenses, and a cut. More than you're getting right

     now---"

     "Which is nothing," Rudd said. "We ran a check on your

     account. You're broke."

     Gregson powered up his rifle. The indicator lights flashed on,

     startling the two men, who stood suddenly and backed off a few

     meters. "I didn't spend my life's savings to get all the way out to

     this hairball of a planet, live in a tent in a field of mud, and

     eat gristle worms and drink peat water for a year and a half, just

     so I could have a cut of what I discover."

     "They're making you a generous offer," Jacko said. "It's not

     going to be repeated."

     "You can repeat it until doomsday. I'm here as an independent,

     and whatever I discover is mine. A hundred-percent mine."

     "I don't think he's interested," Jacko said to Rudd.

     "Your alternative is no employment at all," Rudd told Gregson.

     "It's hard to go prospecting when you're laid up in a med center."

     "Accidents happen so suddenly," Jacko said. "You never know

     when to expect them."

     "That's true," Gregson said. He slung the stun rifle over his

     shoulder. "You want to make an accident happen, do it now."

     Jacko and Rudd glanced nervously at each other.

     "If you threaten me, you'd better be ready to back it up,"

     Gregson told them. "I've killed deadlier creatures than you on five

     different worlds, and I wasn't using an old stun gun, either."

     Rudd sneered. "Gregson, you're way over your head." He and

     Jacko turned and walked off toward their jeep. Gregson let out his

     breath and relaxed. He watched as they started the jeep's engine

     and rumbled off over the uneven ground. When it was out of sight he

     leaned his rifle against the log and collapsed in his folding chair

     with a sigh.

     #

     The main difference between civilized worlds and new colonies,

     Gregson noticed, was that one had paved walkways and the other had

     dirt paths. This planet, Aeolus, didn't even have dirt paths. He

     made his way through the broken foliage, following the trail that

     the Bankrightk jeep had plowed back toward "town." His stun rifle,

     which was an antique his father once used, was slung casually over

     his shoulder.

     Gregson knew the moment he heard Bankrightk had established an

     office on this planet he was going to have trouble. He, like his

     father before him, had wandered to the farthest reaches of human

     space to get away from the corporations. It was no use, though --

     wherever he went they would sooner or later show up. It stood to

     reason that if there was a huge profit to be made, that is where

     the corporations would go. It was like that throughout history. A

     few brave souls would strike out into the unknown, searching for

     that one big discovery, but the moment anything valuable was found

     the corporations would step in and take it over.

     Halfway to town Gregson made a detour, picking his way through

     the branches and undergrowth, following the smell of hot bacon and

     fried eggs, and -- oh heaven! -- freshly brewed coffee. The trees

     thinned and were replaced by Earth plants; rows of corn, potatoes,

     cabbage, carrots, tomatoes. There were pens with pigs, cows, and a

     few horses. Chickens roamed about, each with a silver inhibitor

     band around their necks to keep them from wandering too far. This

     was Vern Hudson's farm, and the farm house ahead was a large

     cylindrical water storage tank off one of the first colony ships.

     The crops and the animals were all Vern's test subjects -- he was a

     certified Ecesist, specially trained in adapting Earth life to

     alien environments. Vern was nowhere in sight, but his teenage

     kids, Bethany and Frank, were on the front porch with their dog.

     "James!" Bethany called. "You're just in time. I made an extra

     portion just in case you showed up." Bethany, who Gregson had been

     courting for several months now, was 19 years standard, with

     olive-brown skin, brown eyes, and long straight brown-black hair.

     The top of her head didn't quite make it to Gregson's shoulders, so

     she had to look up at him to show him her smile.

     Her younger brother, Frank, wasn't smiling. He was 17 and

     shared his sister's hair and complexion. He was a head taller than

     her, however, and almost as tall as Gregson. He was huskier than

     Gregson, with square shoulders and a beefy chest. He reached down

     as Gregson approached and touched a button on the digital panel

     embedded in the dog's head. The dog began to growl.

     "Frank!" Bethany said. She touched the animal's head, and the

     growling stopped.

     Frank reached for the dog again and she slapped his hand. They

     glared at each other for a moment, and he turned and stomped off.

     She turned and smiled at Gregson again, ushering him up to the

     house and inside.

     The food tasted wonderful, and the coffee was nice and strong.

     As he ate, Bethany walked lightly around the table, talking. "...

     and since we haven't seen any large tracks of any kind, we don't

     think it's really an animal at all. Dad thinks it's spoor from one

     of the plants. And I was thinking, if we could find what the source

     is before my Dad does, you and I could share the title."

     Gregson sipped his coffee, watching her walk, admiring her

     soft curves and listening happily to her disarming voice. "If I

     agreed to something like that," he told her, "your father would

     have your brother kill me."

     Bethany stopped, cocking her head to one side and looking at

     him through whisps of her hair. "I don't think so."

     "Besides, if it's a psycho-reactive agent then it's probably

     useless to us. It can be reproduced artificially. The only thing

     that would be valuable is if it's something that can only be

     produced by a living thing, and we get the rights to the DNA code.

     That's the key. If only the DNA can produce it, if the living thing

     in and of itself is of value, can we profit."

     "Like, if it's a psychic effect."

     Gregson nodded. He stabbed the last bit of egg with a fork and

     put it in his mouth.

     "Dad doesn't believe in that sort of thing."

     "Where is your Dad now, anyway?"

     "Out at the catfish farm."

     He paused in his chewing for a moment, looking into her eyes.

     "Out there, huh?"

     "Yeah." Her eyes betrayed worry. "I hope he's okay."

     "I'm sure he is. You said you never found tracks. It's not an

     animal."

     "I said we never found large tracks."

     Gregson dropped the fork on the table and reached out for her.

     "Come here." She leaned into him, and he put his arms around her

     and gave her a long hug. "He's going to be okay," he said.

     "I know," Bethany said. She kissed him. They smiled at each

     other, and kissed again. Gregson pulled back, still smiling, but

     she wasn't finished kissing yet. She leaned hard against him to the

     point where he almost lost his balance and fell out of the chair.

     It was then that they noticed that her brother was yelling, and

     that something was happening outside.

     They hadn't made it to the door before it slammed open and

     Vern came stumbling in, looking deranged. Close on his heals was

     Frank, shouting, "What's wrong? What is wrong?"

     "Dad?" Bethany said.

     He bumped against them, stumbling, shaking, mumbling something

     unintelligible. He got down on his hands and knees, crawling under

     the table. There he curled into a fetal position, his eyes rolled

     back so that they could only see the whites. He was panting and

     sweat soaked his clothes, beading his face and making his hair hang

     in wet, wiry strings. "It's ... a horrible, a demon ... gonna get

     ... everywhere ... follows me. I think it's a demon ... can't get

     away ... can't ..." He shuddered, falling silent. His children

     joined him on the floor, hugging him, telling him that he was safe.

     Gregson went into the man's work room, passing the man's

     elaborate bio-computer, his genetic assembly/disassembly

     peripherals, found a cabinet full of pharmaceuticals and pulled out

     some anti-shock tabs. He carried them into the dining room, knelt

     down under the table, and placed one of the little white stickers

     on the man's throat, near the jugular vein. Within minutes he began

     to come out of it. He looked up at Gregson from under the table, a

     shade of embarrassment in his expression.

     "What was it, Vern?" he asked.

     "It was horrible," Vern whispered, shaking his head.

     "Overpowering."

     "You saw it, then? An animal?"

     Vern's mouth moved, but no words came out. When he found his

     voice, he said, "Don't go out there. Don't do it."

     "You know I've got to."

     "Don't do it!"

     Gregson turned to leave. Bethany shouted, "James!"

     He turned back. "I've got to see what it is."

     "It's not worth it." Bethany's eyes were pleading.

     He gave her his best smile. "I'll be back."

     #

     The carnivorous trees looked more like gigantic moss-covered

     fish bones than trees. They had an exoskeleton structure not unlike

     Terran insects, and the "moss" was a sticky, deadly substance which

     paralyzed and slowly digested several species of indigenous birds.

     The most common was the flying dodo, which was a big green

     bat-winged creature that regularly crashed into obstacles such as

     houses, light poles, and carnivorous trees. One was fluttering and

     crying out in its final moments as Gregson entered the forest.

     He walked for a couple of kilometers before coming upon a

     large, winding creek. He turned and followed it up hill, heading

     east. The carnivorous trees thinned, being replaced by a taller,

     uglier variety, which grew closer together and blocked out more

     sunlight. Here and there a shaft of sunlight made it through, but

     otherwise the forest was frighteningly dark.

     Gregson slowed his pace and finally stopped. In front of him

     the creek was dammed, creating a shallow pond of crystal clear

     water. It was here that Vern Hudson was working on a strain of

     catfish to be released into the main river. Beyond the pond is

     where the trouble was.

     He pulled out his biotascope and waved it back and forth.

     There were hundreds of life form readings, mostly bugs. There was

     nothing much bigger than his thumbnail. He checked the plant life

     for biological outgassing; there were numerous substances, but none

     registered as a psychoactive nor a pheromone -- at least none that

     should affect a human being.

     All around the pond were human footprints. One fresh set,

     heading straight away from the pond and into the forest back toward

     town, were clearly from someone running hard. As he studied them

     Gregson realized his heart was pounding, that he was already

     afraid. He wondered if it was natural, or if it was somehow being

     induced. It's natural, he told himself. I'm a natural coward. He

     took a deep breath and pushed on, walking cautiously around the

     pond and into dense woods beyond.

     About 40 meters past the pond, his biotascope began picking up

     readings of a creature. It was right on the outside range of the

     device, so he couldn't get much information. It was a larger life

     reading, bigger than a dog but smaller than a human. He moved

     toward it, wanting to get a look. The forest was so dense here he

     couldn't see more than a few meters in any direction; the pond was