Taylor Scott had been born into a world that, while not yet arrived, was visible on the horizons of time. The government discovered his talents early. Cultivated by the so-called benevolent society, his talents and abilities were stellar. Encouraged to excel, he did not disappoint his masters. Now, as lead scientist on the key agricultural engineering project of his time, he would transform the mechanisms and processes of growing and harvesting food for the Great Society and beyond. Through genetic engineering and mass replication of the results, this project stood on the precipice of fruition. Not through plant engineering, not through animal production, but through animal engineering that replaced mechanical methods with organic solutions for the betterment of a hungry world.
The world’s condition had deteriorated over the years. A combination of overpopulation and diminishing resources caused fear and panic among the world’s populace. Overtaxed land and water resources had become priceless. Economic turmoil howled outside everyone’s door. A panicking world was restless for answers and ready to take matters into its own hands. With the threat of famine came the actions of desperation. History had shown that wars started over limited, precious resources, and those same war drums were beginning to beat. In order to prevent the coming conflagration, the “haves” worked to meet some of the basic needs of the “have-nots”, before they sought to take it by force. This was not out of benevolence, but out of a desire for self-preservation. This option was less costly than war and favored by those in the developed world.
However, the harvesting of food sources created a burden on the industrialized states. The consumption of hydrocarbon fuels threatened the longevity of even the vast resources of the planet, and remaining sources were expensive to exploit. Depletion of water aquifers and lakes resulted in the creation of desalination plants and a network of pumping stations to distribute the precious resource. However, these solutions had come with a great cost. The last gasp of a hungry world was absolute anarchy that would not solve the problems, but only exacerbate them. Leader Burnsom had created a society with little tragedy or disaster. His life in politics had begun at the state level and he had quickly become a national figure. A striking character with great enthusiasm and greater plans, he looked and played the part of benevolent leader to the people. His graying temples and patrician good looks enhanced his authoritative presence. Stern without being oppressive, calming without seeming patronizing, people were drawn to him like a moth to a flame and for some the results are the same. The populace worried about anything that would upset what everyone facetiously called paradise because of sporadic shortages and rationing. Burnsom turned to science to solve the problem quickly, before the world fell apart.
Sitting in his office, Taylor stared out the large picture window and out over the waving crops growing in the fields with the rural farm worker apartment complex just beyond them. He pondered the long road that had led him to this day.
Interrupted by a knock at his door he turned around. “Come in.”
The secretary entered. “Doctor Scott, fifteen minutes until your next meeting.” She handed him his notes and presentation.
“You look a little tense.”
“Yeah, this presentation before the central authority bureaucrats is critical. They control all businesses and this will set in motion the project of a lifetime for me. I’ve worked for this all my life.”
She scanned the wall and stopped briefly at his degrees. “You have doctorates in both electrical and genetic engineering. I think you’ll do alright. You’ve certainly worked on a lot of projects.”
He thought of his time in the military as the lead on bioelectrical control systems for the military’s unmanned weapons that had replaced implants with proximity and wearable controls. “Thanks for the kind words, but the past is of little importance to those guys. They run all the businesses for Leader Burnsom so that we don’t experience the economic downturns of the past.”
She chuckled. “Yeah, that doesn’t happen anymore. We have jobs, money and healthcare for everyone, but not in abundance and clueless bureaucrats bouncing in and out without a clue of how to run things”
“They call it success and we call it maintained misery.”
“ Freedom and choices are fading fast. Like the Israelites in the wilderness, slavery in Egypt seems better than the unknowns waiting for them in the wilderness of life.”
Taylor thought, that was an interesting choice of words.
“Well, your project will help with that problem. Good luck. I’ll leave and let you focus.”
“Thanks for your help.”
She closed the door behind her. He looked at the memories of his experiences and artifacts of the last century, a time he thought was better in many ways than today. “Modernist” furnishing styles, now from a time gone by, had become an oxymoron. As he ran his hand across the back of his chair and for a moment, he lost his train of thought. Just occasional random musings that pop into one’s head at odd times in the course of reflecting on the past. Taking stock again, he scanned the pictures of the men and women he had worked with on the military projects. They represented the experiences and friends he had made in the many places he had traveled to test the technology. He picked up one photo of himself surrounded by other smiling faces in fatigues. The bonds they had formed defending themselves when the forward command center was in danger of capture by an enemy’s last best effort were still fresh in his mind after all these years. Saving lives with this technology would be the reward; and now he was going to make life better for many if the project was a success. Pictures of his youth with his mother and father reminded him that he was lucky to be among the last not to spend most of his life in government learning institutions like children did today. He sighed as a sentimental smile grew on his face and his eyes welled up. I miss you.
He regained his focus, looked into a mirror and practiced some of his main points. “This project will benefit a world that desperately needs food to feed the hungry and prevent a war that might destroy everything.” Satisfied, he cleared his throat and continued. “This will benefit each of you as its success is your success.”
With bureaucrats, nothing was ever done out of pure benevolence. It just did not work that way. By serving the greater purpose, everything first had to serve their selfish desires. The intercom startled Taylor out of his musings.
“They are ready for you, sir.”
“Thank you.” Here we go.
He briskly walked down the hall past the pictures of the former directors of the lab. They were a reminder of the fact that whether an individual’s projects succeeded or failed, his time here would not be long. He entered the lavishly-furnished conference room. It greeted visitors with the best face the lab had to offer with cushioned, high-back chairs and a huge table constructed of the finest woods; forbidden to the masses but exploited by authority. It exuded warmth while the rest of the laboratory represented clinical asceticism. Real plants ornamented this room. Devin Chambers, the laboratory director, began with a few remarks. Devin was tall, lean and high strung. He wore tailor-made suits, sported slicked-back, jet-black hair, and smiled mostly at those he deemed important. His big, wide, cheesy grin reminded Taylor of the wide chrome grills on cars from the mid-twentieth century. Bureaucrats survived well when they exhibited the qualities of a good salesperson. Able to sell the sizzle of a frozen steak, he had managed to get a foot in the door, but also had to obsess over achieving the outcome he had promised. After the obligatory greetings, Devin gave the floor over to Taylor.
Stepping to the head of the table, Taylor began his presentation. “Ladies and gentlemen, I am excited to present to you Asterion, a project that will change everything.” Displaying the familiar DNA model on the screen, he continued. “Genetic engineering has always been plagued by the unintended characteristics introduced when engineering genes in the lab. Introduce a gene for one characteristic and additional, observable characteristics are in the result. Research has shown that sequencing alone is not the only factor at play here. There is a timing mechanism that turns attributes on and off. Some are based upon proteins from other genes and environmental forces introduced into the gene group, but some of these processes still elude discovery”
A few yawns from the audience told him he had to move along quickly or lose them altogether. Jumping to the next slide, Taylor revealed to the assembled company the instrument that would change the game. Taylor pointed to the device. “The AutoDNA turns the process of splicing, timing, and replication of the experiment into a consistent, repeatable process.” Revealing the instrument at least garnered some attention from the assembled group. To them, it was a toy of sorts with dials and buttons that made noises and blinked. Taylor observed their interest and knew the instrument was a shiny thing, capable of capturing their attention, like drawing a fish with a lure.
Taylor suppressed a smile. “The AutoDNA mimics the processes through different wavelengths of light, radiation, and chemical processes, and we can achieve greater precision in our results.”
One of the visitors interrupted. “So we could make designer pets! That would be very profitable.”
Taylor smiled. “Well, that could be a possibility, but one with unknown consequences. Reproduction could result in unintended and uncontrollable results. We have a better use for this technology.”
An acerbic bureaucrat interrupts Taylor’s pitch in an attempt to appear concerned. “We see a lot of equipment with neat bells and whistles, what will this actually accomplish?”
“That’s not a bad question and the perfect opportunity to present the real purpose behind the project. The instrument would be just a scientist’s toy without a practical application. It makes possible a project of immense value to society that revolutionizes agricultural processes and further reduces our dependence on hydrocarbon-fueled machines to plant, nurture, and harvest the food we desperately need. We can now engineer a creature that is smart and dexterous enough to perform many tasks; strong enough to take the place of the engines that drive the machines that prepare, plant, maintain, and harvest crops of all kinds. This will also reduce our dependence on fossil and synthetic hydrocarbon-based energy sources.”
For the first time, Taylor had a wide-eyed, attentive audience. Approval of this project would launch the assembled bureaucrats up the government ladder like rockets. With the prospect of addressing two critical issues facing the populace as outlined by the Leader, they knew it would garner a lot of attention. Their consensus was that they had to fund this project. It would have all the resources it needed to succeed in the shortest amount of time.
Devin worked the crowd, reinforcing his own importance as director and cementing his future relationships. He gave an approving nod to Taylor and continued rubbing elbows with his own kind. They were already in party mode, having moved on from their last self-interest to the next one.
Taylor slipped away and headed for the lab. He felt most comfortable there, despite its sterile workbenches. Glass door cabinets formed the walls, filled with various chemicals. Glassware of various shapes, containers, electronic equipment to observe and take measurements, compounds, and organic material filled the lab. It was a place of solitude to think and challenge the boundaries of nature.
Devin met Taylor later that day in the lab. “Congratulations, Doctor Scott, your project will catapult you to stardom with the people and bolster Burnsom’s popularity among the people. His critics won’t be able to stop this project.” Devin examines a squib-shaped separating funnel as if he has never seen one before. “It’s a win for everyone associated with this project.”
Taylor knew what Devin was happy about and it was not the benefit to the people or Burnsom’s poll numbers. It was how he could use this to achieve his own goals. “Thanks for your support.”
Devin set the funnel down and walked toward the door. Without looking back, he cautioned, “Don’t disappoint me,” in his usual cold, stern voice.
“So much for a warm moment,” Taylor muttered and shook his head.
Equipment and supplies began to pour into the lab through the large shipping doors. Taylor went over the blueprints with the project manager. “The lab has to expand within the facility and these walls need to come out.”
“That’s going to require a major remodeling effort and we only have several days.”
“Focus on the lab first. Construction on the additional sterile chambers to form the incubation and maturation areas can be completed last.”
This would be the model for assembly line genetically-modified creatures. Technicians assembled, set up and tested equipment, verifying each function and calibration.
Screening, interviewing and hiring of personnel began. Directing all these efforts occupied Taylor’s time. He hated not being able to focus all his attention on advancing the research, but the devil is in the details.
Scott sat at his desk holding a resume’ in his hand, staring at it as if lost in thought. A knock on his open door broke his fixation. He looked up and saw Devin smiling at the door. “What’s up?”
Devin stepped in and handed him another resume’. “Here’s one that looks quite promising. Good references from government sources.”
Taylor takes it from his hand. “Okay, I’ll take a look”
“Give it a real good look.” Devin turns and walked out of the office.
Scott knew what that meant. Devin wanted this one on the team. Taylor thought that was unusual as Devin never seemed concerned with the hiring process. He had made it known that he was not concerned with the day-to-day operations of the project; that these tasks were for low-level managers. Devin liked the thirty-thousand-foot view of things, both literally and figuratively. He had previously shown little interest in these tasks, calling them mundane and boring.
Taylor, stuck in his office, pored over the hundreds of resumes received by the lab. One-by-one, he interviewed the qualified candidates in his office and narrowed the field down to several who could fit the bill. Taylor hired two scientists to assist with the project. Trent Boseman specialized in electrical and software engineering, including nanotechnology. A lot of work still needed to be done to integrate the multiple supercomputers with the instruments. Devin pushed for his inclusion on the team with the personally delivered resume’. Trent was the typical computer engineering type. Pale and used to working in isolation, his social skills were not always the best. He seemed to be frustrated and temperamental most of the time but occasionally upbeat and happy when things worked out in the lab. Though he lacked in the social graces, he was the best in his field. Slightly overweight, with skinny arms and legs, he was the poster child for the quintessential computer person.
Christine Summers came highly recommended from Taylor’s alma mater. With red hair touched with blonde highlights that cascaded to her shoulders, she was the most attractive woman he had ever seen. Her wide-open blue eyes, small nose and full lips captivated him. She reminded him of old photos when women were curvier and less athletically built. Difficult as it was, he soldiered on and stuck to the task of interviewing her to determine her ability to fill the position. It did not take Taylor long to choose her as the other scientist on the project. She would help him fine-tune the nuclear, laser and chemical processes needed to perform the precise engineering, incubation and replication processes.
He presented his choices to Devin. Devin looked up with a smirk. “I know why you chose her.”
“She is qualified for the position.”
“I don’t know.” He was convinced Taylor had chosen her because of her attractiveness.
“Well, she is.” He defended his decision even though he wasn’t sure himself that her looks and personality didn’t sway his final decision.
“Anyway, they’re good and I’m glad you chose Boseman.”
Taylor left and smiled. He knew he had to pick Trent. Getting credit for it was one of those disingenuous pats on the back bosses gave you when you did their telegraphed desire.
Trent would free him from the drudgery of banging out lines of code for the project. Another government research lab did the initial coding, but the programming still needed many changes. Now Taylor could focus his time completely on the progress of the project.
Assembling his team in the conference room, Taylor introduced them to the details of the project. “We will engineer a creature that is more than just a beast of burden. Part bovine, with dexterous hands and powerful legs, this semi-intelligent creature will be able to work and pull the equipment in the field, pick crops by hand, and some may be able to maintain equipment and facilities. This will free the lowest of our populace to perform jobs of greater benefit to society, thus increasing their contribution and their credits for housing, food, healthcare, and other needs. That is our start; where we go in the future is only limited by our imagination. Our success will ensure that we increase our benefit to society and ensure each of us has enough credits to live comfortably.” Taylor ended with, “Any questions?”
They sat in silence, stunned by the revelation for a few seconds, until Trent said, “Only about a million or so.”
Christine piped up, “At least!”
Trent continued, “What are some of the other applications for this technology?”
“We are a long way from those intended results. We’ll worry about the future after we’re successful in this immediate endeavor.” Taylor thought it was odd that Trent seemed more interested in other applications than in the immediate need to fully integrate, test and develop the applications past the beta stages to release. “One of our main issues is the telemetry between the system and the nano-mechanisms. We must have complete control over the nanotechnology to ensure nothing goes wrong.”
Christine interjected, “Once we study the notes and assess where we are, the questions will be more relevant.”
“Good,” replied Taylor, “we have much to do.”
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