Thomas A. Easton - Organic Future 01 -Sparrowhawk.pdf

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Sparrowhawk - Organic
Future 01
Thomas A. Easton
Chapter One
FIVE-YEAR-OLD ANDY GILMAN, towheaded and gap-toothed, was kneeling on a chair by the
kitchen window. Half a dozen plastic Warbirds were scattered on the floor beneath him. With the tip of
one finger, he was writing his name in the large smudge his nose had left on the glass. Suddenly he
stiffened and pointed beyond the pane. “Look, Daddy!” he cried. “See the bird! By the feeder! A big
Nick Gilman grinned and crossed the room in a stride. He looked, and the kid was right. A Chickadee,
the size of an old-fashioned Piper Cub, was on the lawn beside the back porch. It wasn’t wearing its
two-seater passenger or engine pods. As Nick watched, it cocked its head to one side, inserted its beak
between the shelf and the overhanging roof of the feeder, and seized a mouthful of seeds. Then, shaking
its head as if the treat had been more effort than it was worth, it stepped back a pace.
As it did so, nongengineered birds of more normal size approached to try to reach the seeds remaining in
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the feeder. Few succeeded, for as they fluttered past the Chickadee, they fell prey instead to its darting
beak. Nick shuddered, remembering when all chickadees had been vegetarians. “C’mon, Andy. We’re
in a rush. Gotta go get Mommy.”
“But, Daddy! I wanna watch!”
Nick had no time for nonsense. Emily’s jet would be late, of course, but it
was due in an hour, and he had to be there just in case she was on time or—God forbid!--early. He
should have left ten minutes before, but the casserole had needed its finishing touches and he had had to
adjust the oven and he had had to run a comb through his hair and he had had to straighten the throw rug
that had slid beneath his feet and...It wasn’t easy being a househusband.
The radio began to mutter that, on this hot and muggy Tuesday in July of 2044, terrorist attacks were
becoming more frequent, but he had no time to listen. Nor did he care to think of what such a thing might
mean for Emily, or him, or their towheaded son. He turned it off and grabbed his jacket. Then he picked
the boy up in his arms, wiped the snot from the boy’s nose with a handkerchief, and rushed from the
Emily was a high-bracket gengineer, she would be back soon from her trip—she had flown to
Washington on Sunday to testify before a patent board on Monday—he loved her dearly, and he didn’t
want to leave her waiting. Sometimes he wished their roles were reversed, with him the one wandering
the world on high adventures and she the one at home in their small, old-fashioned brick house. But his
doctorate had been in Romantic Poets, there were fewer new college students than ever, few colleges
were hiring young faculty, and his attempts at selling his own poems and short stories had earned him the
grand total of $79.85. He could have bought a pair of shoes. Cheap ones.
Nick had opened the garage door that morning and led the Tortoise out for relief from the heat. Now the
family vehicle was waiting in the drive, shaded by nearby trees. Nick had bought it when he was in
college and single. It had been young then, with the passenger compartment in the shell just big enough, in
a squeeze, for two. And he had squeezed more than one girl in it, he had, until he had found Emily and
grown up a bit. As advertised, the Tortoise had grown too, maturing from the sports car stage to coupe.
Eventually, timed by gengineers like Emily to match a family’s growth, it would gain the capacity of a
station wagon.
The Tortoise didn’t look like a tortoise. Its chief ancestor had been a lean, low terrapin. The gengineers
had given it size and speed, and a cavity beneath the shell. The General Bodies shops had fitted a
windshield, side windows, and doors, installed plush seats, added headlights and taillights, and wired the
controls into the Tortoise’s nervous system. At periodic checkups, they added new fittings and enlarged
or refitted the old to keep pace with the creature’s growth.
Roachsters, half cockroach and half lobster; Hoppers, derived from grasshoppers; and other Buggies
could keep pace with a family’s needs just as well. But Nick preferred the more classic lines of the
Tortoise. Its shape reminded him of the gas-burners his parents had driven when he had been a child,
when the Machine Age had still been vigorous. The oil that had made that Age possible had been on the
verge of exhaustion, and most liquid fuels were being produced—expensively—from coal. But people
had not yet recognized that new forms of technology were essential if civilization were to continue, nor
that the replacement technology was already taking shape. The Biological Revolution had by then been
fermenting in the world’s laboratories for decades, and the gengineers had been on the verge of
long-sought success.
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As Nick and Andy left the house, the Tortoise’s barrellike head turned toward them. The legs on the
side facing the house flexed, Nick stepped onto the offered lip of shell, resembling an old-time running
board, and opened the door. Andy scooted across the bucket seats to let his father take his position
behind the tiller.
Even before the door clicked into its frame, the Tortoise’s knees were rising and falling, pistonlike, in
Nick’s peripheral vision. He steered it onto the greenway that had long since replaced paved streets in
his suburb, guided it toward the expressway on-ramp, and accelerated. The Tortoise’s knees became a
blur, its breathing an audible gale of wind.
The expressway itself was still paved. The Public Works Department kept promising to have it grassed,
for almost all vehicles were now bioforms, or genimals. But public money was as short as ever, and the
Biological Revolution was still new. Many residential neighborhoods, unlike Nick’s, also still had paved
streets. Only a few neighborhoods had yet gone to modern bioform houses, gengineered from pumpkins,
squash, beanstalks, eggplants, and even more exotic stock.
Air transportation was somewhat more advanced. As Nick and Andy neared the airport, they passed a
zone of bedraggled hangars and paved runways. Airplanes—Comanches, Beechcrafts, Boeings—stood
about in varying states of dishabille. A few showed the faded, painted-over logos of major airlines. Most
wore nothing but their serial numbers.
“What’s that, Daddy? Jets?” To him, the gengineered birds were the normal technology. These were
strange variants, stiff and featherless, emblems of a realm set askew from the world he knew, but oddly
reminiscent of it.
“Obsolete junkers, Andy.” The traffic had been light, they would be there in plenty of time, and Nick
had relaxed. He spared a glance for the display beside the expressway. “Real airplanes. They used to
carry people. Now it’s just cargo.” Many, the papers said, carried contraband—guns, illegal immigrants,
fugitives from the law, laundered money—across the border. Many more carried banned bioforms such
as cannibal grass, or cheap bootleg copies of glow-in-the-dark philodendrons and goldfish bushes.
Their Tortoise sped them past another airport zone. The runways were still paved, but the hangars were
in better shape and the planes wore shiny coats of paint. “Hobbyists,” said Nick. “Weekend flyers.” One
of the planes was a bulb-nosed giant, towering above all the others. On its tail was a stylized rabbit head.
“How do they fly?”
“They have engines, just like the jets. On the wings.” He pointed. “And
propeller engines, in the nose. And see the windows up front?” When Andy nodded, Nick added,
“People drive them, like the old-time cars.” He paused. “I took a few lessons once. On a small one.”
The terminal loomed ahead, all glass and steel and concrete, with mown grass beyond. The control
tower held a faceted ball above everything. Nick fantasized some Paul Bunyan of a golfer poised to send
that ball down the green runways. He pointed and said, “Fore!” Andy giggled.
There was a parking barn whose attendants would feed and water vehicles for weeks at a time, while,
the rumors went, breeding strange, illicit hybrids. Nick avoided it, searching for and finding a space in an
open lot nearer their destination. Once in the air-conditioned terminal, he checked a board to find that
Emily’s flight would, as he had expected, be a few minutes late. Then, at Andy’s insistence, they took the
escalator to the observation deck.
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He let Andy lead him, running, to the edge of the deck. He braced himself against the warm wind,
wished that they had stayed inside and cool, peered into the sky looking for his wife, and listened to the
airport noises. The boy chinned himself on the railing, imitated his father’s searching gaze, and pointed
into the distance.
A flight was coming in above the ranks of trees that filled in the middle distance beyond the runways.
The trees had been gengineered from a tropical species to stand more northern climates. Their diesel sap
provided the fuel needed for the engines of jets and the few other powered vehicles civilization still used.
The approaching jet was still too far away to show any detail, but they could make out the distinctive
curve of the extended wings, the elevated, horizontal tail without an upright, the rounded bulge of the
forepart. It came closer, and they could see the two engines mounted just in front of the tail, the fuel
tanks, the passenger pod strapped to the back. Still closer, and the slate-gray upper surfaces separated
from the lighter underside.
Andy cried, “That’s a Junco 47!” He had a plastic model of the huge genimal hanging from the ceiling of
his room at home. Perhaps inevitably, the model had a more mechanical appearance than the real thing.
So had the models of bombers and airliners and space shuttles that had decorated Nick’s childhood
The Junco extended its feet and cupped its wings. Now Nick could make out the China Airlines logo on
the side of one fuel tank. The gengineers had triumphed with the airliners, he thought. Birds, ordinary
birds, had been redesigned to such extremes of size that they could no longer fly on their own. The
biggest, like the Junco, even needed metal-composite implants to strengthen their skeletons. Only the
smallest, like that Chickadee at home, could get into the air without their jet engines and fuel tanks, and
even they needed help when they were carrying passengers or freight. Still, Nick knew, larger creatures
had once flown entirely under their own power. Periodically, the press reminded the public that millions
of years ago, in the age of dinosaurs, there had been a pteranodon the size of an Air Force fighter.
Emily had told him why the gengineers had bothered. Jets like the Junco needed much less in the way of
the metals that cost so much to mine and process. They were more efficient and safer as well. Though
they could not normally fly on their own, in emergencies they could manage a few flaps of their wings.
They could control their machine-powered flight, and they needed very short runways. They were also
self-building, once the gengineers were done with the design work, and self-repairing.
The landing was smooth. Nick followed Andy’s pointing finger to the side, where an Alitalia Cardinal,
free for the moment of its passenger pod and engines, preened its plumage. Bright red feathers littered the
grass around it, most of them too big to blow in the wind.
Nearby were an American Bald Eagle, a Canadian Pacific Snow Goose, and a British Caledonian
Chimney Swift, its morning-coat tails recalling the formalities of another age. A fat-bodied Wild Turkey
bore the Delta logo, and Nick remembered that that was the complimentary bourbon they served on
board. He and Emily had flown Delta on their honeymoon. United, with its Lovebirds, had seemed too
cute to appeal to them.
“What’s that, Daddy?”
“That” was a metal box much like the trailer of an eighteen-wheel semi. As
the Junco 47 approached the terminal, it converged on the same destination, drawn by a squat,
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heavy-muscled, squash-faced creature whose rootstock had clearly been a bulldog. Its top was covered
by pleats of heavy fabric, and liquid dripped from its base onto the ground.
“Watch,” said Nick. The Junco was in position. As the passenger tunnel snugged its mouth, lampreylike,
against the jet’s pod, the trailer drew under its nose. The ground crew turned cranks mounted on the
trailer’s ends, and the fabric rose on an internal frame to surround the Junco’s head. The motions that
promptly began to shake the fabric could not be misinterpreted. The jet’s—the bird’s—refueling was
under way.
“What kind of seeds is it eating?” asked Andy. He had seen ordinary juncos on the ground beneath the
bird feeder at home. He had even thrown out sunflower seeds for them.
Nick shook his head. “Uh-uh,” he said. “It’s like the Chickadee. When they’re this big, they have to eat
meat.” It was cheaper than any alternative, for it was obtained from worms and slugs gengineered to
thrive on human wastes and garbage. They had been among the first of the large-scale bioforms to be
developed when the gengineers had stepped beyond single-gene changes in bacteria, viruses, and plants.
“See the litterbugs?” he added. The rattle of cloven hooves reached them even on the observation deck
as a trio of strange-looking creatures raced toward the liner’s other end from the service bay that had
disgorged the feed trailer. They vaguely resembled pigs, but their limbs were longer and their snouts
were distorted into broad scoops. Smaller versions patrolled city streets, seeking out and devouring the
leavings of other genimals. They did not neglect banana peels, paper scraps, and beverage containers.
They did not interest Andy. The boy glanced at them briefly, dismissed them as common, and looked
skyward again. Nick chuckled quietly, thinking that someday the boy might see some small, wild bird
release its wastes in flight. Perhaps he would wonder, then, about the airliners. They had, Nick knew,
been gengineered to discharge their wastes while feeding. Many mammals—even humans—did it without
the gengineering. It was, Emily had told him once, a simple “make-room” reflex.
Andy shouted. He was pointing toward the horizon once more. In a moment, they could identify a
Northwest Albatross. Once the jet was on the ground, Nick took Andy by the hand and they headed for
the gate.
Emily was the third person to come striding up the ramp from the plane, grinning, eyes scanning the small
crowd for her family. A slender, dark-haired woman whose wide mouth often showed its teeth in a smile
that would have done justice to a veedo evangelist, she exuded alertness and energy. One hand held in
place on a shoulder a garment bag and a purse. The other clutched a briefcase and a plastic bag from
whose top protruded a few green leaves.
Nick, grinning as broadly as she, took the garment bag. She knelt then, to wrap her free arm around
their son. “Ah, Andy,” she said. “You need to blow. And look what I’ve got right here.”
She opened the bag she carried to reveal a plant whose dark green leaves alternated with white oblongs.
One of the latter she picked and held to Andy’s nose. “Blow!” The boy obliged, laughed, and cried, “A
hanky bush!”
“Right!” She looked at her husband. “Something new. They’re working on more productive models for
the bathroom and kitchen.”
“That should save a few trees,” he said.
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