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What Kind of Love
The Moons of Syllabar gently shone through my office window as I cleared my desk, filling my briefcase with the assorted files and charts I would need for the weekend. I turned off the lights. As I made my way through the outer office, an older couple appeared at the door.
"Dr. Morris?" She asked, startling me. "May we have a moment of your time?"
"I'm sorry, I'm on my way to Delorus III and the pleasure ship Nexus." I smiled, hoping to communicate my urgency. "It's the first vacation I've had in years. I hope you understand." I started for the door and held it open for the couple to exit, making my intent clear.
"Please, Dr. Morris. We've come all the way from Old Earth just to meet with you. Our shuttle just landed and we really need to speak with you." She held her husband's hand tightly.
She was tall, elegant of posture, with thick gray hair caught up in a loose bun atop her head. She had a refined face, with a narrow nose that gave me the impression she had been quite striking in her youth. Her husband was also tall, yet stooped as if he carried a great weight on his back. His hair was much thinner and white, and his breath whistled through his open mouth.
They both wore a worried expression on their face, brow furrowed, eyes open. "I'm sorry, but if you call my secretary in the morning she'll make an appointment for you." I checked my watch. "I have just enough time to get to the Space port and catch my flight. It really is the first holiday I've had in years. Can you understand?"
The man looked down towards the floor. "Let's go Agnes. He works hard for a living and has earned his rest." He gave her a slight pull.
The woman's face wrinkled in earnest. "Please Dr. Morris. We really can't wait. We must talk with you."
"Agnes!" Her husband whispered urgently. "Let's go!"
"Joseph, you know we can't stay. Our planetary visas . . "
The woman fell silent, dropping her eyes. "You're right, let's go," She said, whispering.
The man touched the woman's cheek lightly, lifting her face to stare into her eyes. "We'll think of something else. I promise." He kissed her lightly on the end of her nose.
I remembered my own parents, the same gestures, the same actions, the same love. I sighed.
"Oh, I suppose I could spare a few moments. Let's go on into my office."
"I know the value of a holiday, young man, " the man said. "You run off to your shuttle and pleasure cruise, Agnes and I will be ok."
But I could tell from the woman's face, this was untrue. "Come on in, Joseph. I can always take another pleasure cruise." I held the door.
With a sigh and a nod, they entered.
"So what can I do for you?" I asked when they had been seated in front of my desk.
"Joseph and I would like to be considered for the world Primeval," Agnes said.
And they'd looked like such a nice couple. I shook my head, and glanced at my watch.
"I can still make that pleasure ship." I started to rise from my chair. I had thought they had a legitimate concern, but I guessed kooks come in all shapes, sizes, and ages.
"No. Please listen. My husband has a rare lung disease. The doctors have told us that he must live in a dry climate, on a world with as little humidity as possible in order to shrink his bronchial passages. There is no cure."
"I hear Sarahan is a nice place." I donned my blazer. "They have wonderful sights, and many interesting cities if you can stand the heat."
"That's the problem." Joseph's voice sounded weak. "All the dry planets are also hot. Agnes has too few sweat pores and doesn't perspire. She needs to live in a cool climate. We've been unable to find both, and we would sincerely like to stay together for a little while longer at least."
Joseph placed his arm around Agnes' shoulders. She leaned into him, as her eyes started to fill.
"But no human has ever set foot on Primeval," I said. "It is an experimental colony."
"That's why we would like to apply." Joseph breathed heavily, as if he couldn't get enough wind. "We would like to join your experiment as Colonists."
He hugged his wife with his arm, looking at me. A vision of my own father, embracing my mother came to me. The official report stated my parents had died embracing each other, as the fires of Erivin raged around and through them.
"But such a drastic move?" I sat in my chair. "You realize what it would entail?"
"We would undergo a transformation into another creature. Yes we have done our homework on Primeval, believe me doctor. We see it as our only hope."
"Nothing medical can be done?" I asked, though I recognized Joseph's symptoms.
"No. My doctors say they could probably have me on megadoses of different drugs, Albuterol and others but my lungs are pretty trashed. Without a full regeneration I won't live much longer anyway. The government tells us Primeval is the only Colony of its kind. I'm stuck with this, unless you can help."
I nodded. "We are extremely selective about our placements on Primeval, and though current health is really not a factor, physiological and psychological stability is. Our usual Colonists are convicted felons who elect Primeval in lieu of lifetime imprisonment or execution. Even then, many of them don't meet the psychological profile. Are you sure you want to go through with this? The testing procedure is quite extreme."
Agnes looked up for the first time since our discussion began. "We're sure."
I withdrew two Interview forms from my briefcase, and set them in front of me.
"Then let's begin."
Agnes and Joseph Copeland had been married for thirty two years. Both teachers, they had worked in some of the finest schools on Earth. They'd never had children, and any relatives that still remembered them had passed. They lived on Old Earth, yet both had been born on other planets, Agnes on New London, and Joseph surprisingly, on Erivin.
"My parents died in the Eriv uprising ten years ago, " I said after the interview had concluded.
"Terrible time." Joseph looked at the floor. "I had some associates who fell to the same fate."
"Yes, it seems the human race has a penchant for destruction. If they'd left the Erivin alone in the first place, or at least treated them fairly . . ." A burning lump rose in my throat at the memory. It had been so long, yet still I missed them.
"Anyway, We've completed you preliminary interview, and I believe you could be considered candidates as long as you pass the psych profiles. I'll notify my secretary to have the appropriate tests in the morning. You may take the written ones on the weekend, and be ready for the batteries on Monday. You can find a place to stay?"
"We'll be fine," Agnes responded, smiling. "Thank you so much, doctor. I apologize for ruining your holiday."
"Oh, there'll be others," I sighed. "This is for the best anyway. Why don't you give me your visas, and I'll stamp them for you. That way the local officials won't give you a hard time if they ask you for them."
"Thank you doctor, you don't know what this means to us." Joseph handed me their cards. I stamped the red RESEARCH mark on each and handed them back.
"There you go." I thumped each card soundly. "Be here bright and early tomorrow."
"We will." The Copelands left.
I stared after them, wondering what kind of love it would take to give up your humanity. Each of them could have gone their separate ways, or lived on different parts of the same planet, yet their love would never allow them to be apart. My own parents had that love. Why couldn't I?
I didn't see the Copelands again until the following Friday. They came to my office just after I had arrived for the day. I had received the results of their tests, and had good news.
"You've passed. I formally invite you to become Colonists of the World Primeval." I smiled at their reaction.
They hugged each other fiercely, tears brimming in Agnes' eyes.
"What comes next?" Agnes asked after they had sat down. They continued to clasp hands.
"Next comes the serious part." I brought up an image of the Earthlike world on he holo monitor embedded within my desk. A spinning blue sphere materialized in front of them.
"As you can see, we have tried to make Primeval a near duplicate of Earth. The large Northern continent here, is where most of the Colonists have been Introduced. We have been able to establish a well rounded circle of life throughout the area. Our Colonists have produced offspring, creating many groups of previously extinct animals."
"You mean, we'll be able to reproduce?" Joseph said, staring at the spinning sphere.
"Oh, yes. In fact, we ask you to sign an agreement stating that you will reproduce, assuming all things work out."
Agnes glanced at her husband. The look communicated volumes.
"Primeval is set up as an experiment, to see what evolutionary tracks kingdom Animalia would have followed if Human's had never appeared. We've set up an isolated, stable environment, with absolutely no human contact. We monitor the Colonists via a small transmitter placed upon their bodies. The transmitter broadcasts how many offspring produced, what conflicts they've participated, and many other items of study."
I glanced at the couple holding hands, staring wide-eyed at the globe. It sounded romantic, sounded like the chance of a lifetime. Unfortunately, all was not as it seemed on Primeval.
"When will we be able to begin?" Agnes asked.
"Soon, I just need to know what form of animal you would prefer to Adopt."
Agnes and Joseph stared at each other. She turned to be. "We've done a fair of research into the different types of animals. Our primary concern was lifelong mate commitment, I don't want to share Joseph with anyone else."
I grinned, and glanced at Joseph. His face flushed a deep shade of red.
"And we would like to be as close as possible to our current form. We also don't want to be hunted all the time. After all we've looked at, we'd like to become . . . . " her voice trailed off as if she couldn't complete the sentence.
"Wolves," Joseph finished. "We want to become wolves. They have a noble family structure, care for their young, and always stay faithful to each other." He smiled.
"Just like us," Agnes interjected. She smiled.
"Ok, I'll see what I can do but I can't promise anything. Your tests have come out positive, so you will be allowed to undergo Treatment, but I will have to consult with the Database to see what forms are currently available. I will then have to take it before the board of Directors, and if everything pans out there, you'll be running amok down there within a month."
"So soon?" Agnes said, clasping a gentle hand to her chest. "We'll only have a month of being human?"
"Less than that I'm afraid. The board meets this afternoon, and if all goes well we can start your treatment on Monday. Therefore you actually have only the weekend to remain completely human. I suggest you do all those things that you can, one final time. Take a long bath, eat a well cooked steak, catch a movie, but some candy. Do all those things that make you human, and that you enjoy. After Monday, your instincts and preferences will change."
Joseph regarded his wife carefully. "I think we can find plenty of things to do, my dear." He brushed a stray lock of hair from her forehead.
"Report back here Monday morning, and I will notify you of the results. We'll start the treatment afterwards." I looked at them, and shut off the display. "Any questions?"
They shook their heads, and started for the door.
"See you on Monday."
I turned to my console, and brought up the information on Primeval. The last two Colonists we'd introduced were a pair of Polar Bears into the far Northern Area of the Main continent. I accessed the Canis species, and saw many had opted for this form. Large Packs of Canis lupus lycaon roamed the continent. The Gray Timber Wolf seemed to be a popular form among the inmates. A fair amount of other wolf forms existed as well, although the Baileyi Colonists or Mexican Wolf had perished due to a local disease.
I nodded to myself. Since the Copelands hadn't specified a preference, I typed the following information into the computer:
I pressed the execute button, which ignited the nannite vat. I then brought up the Colonist Profile screen and inputted the Copeland's respective information. Again I pressed the execute button. The icon that represented the nannite cloud quickly polarized into two distinct groups. The tiny machines patiently waited for their next instructions.
Joseph stared up at me from the table. His breath rasped in and out behind an oxygen mask squarely fitted on his face. His eyes were wide with fright.
"You have nothing to worry about, the nannite cloud will enter your body from your air mask. You won't notice anything unusual or out of the ordinary."
Joseph nodded slowly. "How long . . .before . .I . . ." he stammered.
"Before you start to change?" I concluded for him. "Probably tonight you'll notice a few differences, hair thickening, body invigorated. In fact those cataracts of yours will probably clear up right quick. The nannite cloud corrects problems in your current body first. You'll also breath easier."
"Why . . .can't you just . . .stop there?" He asked, his voice muffled by the mask.
"Renjen Wars. You know, all that regeneration of limbs organs, body tissue. " I placed a hand on his upper shoulder to comfort.
"Medicine is under strict guidelines, we may not regenerate any large organs, including skin. The bureaucrats believe they are doing this in the interest of humanity, yet it actually damages it. I will never understand why. This lab is under close scrutiny, in fact we had to basically get an order from God to allow the process at all. That is why it has to be permanent."
Joseph nodded, and I could tell he was getting sleepy.
"Why don't you take a little nap. When you awaken it will be all over, the nannites will be in your system, and you can wait out the change with your wife."
"Why can't . . .she be . . .here?"
"Just a safety precaution, Mr. Copeland. We are monitoring both of you one hundred percent in case anything were to happen. If you were both in the same room that would be difficult."
Joseph nodded again, barely able to keep his eyes open.
"Good night, Mr. Joseph. When you awaken, you will be on your way to becoming a healthy wolf."
His eyelids closed.
I nodded to a technician standing near a one way mirror outside, and went next door to Agnes' room.
"How are we doing Mrs. Copeland?" I gave her my best doctor smile.
"You look fine to me, Doctor. I on the other hand, am about to receive a rather large cloud of nasty little mechanical bugs that shall infest my system. We, appear to be doing fine, yet I am scared out of my wits."
I placed a hand on her shoulder. "Rest well, Mrs. Copeland. All will go according to plan."
"I am resting well, doctor. I have every confidence in you. Just please do not let them poke me much more."
"I swear to you, Agnes, no more needles. In a few moments the nannite cloud will be released, and you will feel no pain or discomfort as it enters your lungs and bloodstream. The best thing is to go to sleep, and allow it to happen."
"You're asking a lot. I'm supposed to go to sleep knowing that a cloud of tiny machines are going to float into my body and remake it from the inside? I don't think so doctor, unless you have something to take my mind off it."
I smiled, and released a gentle sedative into her breath stream. "You'll be growing fairly sleepy now, Mrs. Copeland. Try to stay calm, this really is a simple process you will feel no discomfort."
"Thank you doctor, I shall try to do that," she responded, as her eyes started to drop with effort.
I smiled, and nodded to the technician through the mirror.
I monitored the Copelands through the one way mirror. Each day, I would check on their progress, interfering as little as possible. In order for the nannites to do their best work, all human contact should cease. Most colonists had an extremely difficult time with this, the isolation usually caused many psychological wounds until the instinctual logistics triggered. Most Colonists were not the Copelands however.
They always sat together, gazing into each other's eyes for long periods of time. I shook my head in wonder. How could anyone, after 32 years of marriage still be in love so deeply?
Agnes touched Joseph's cheek gently, the soft down on his face had grown luxurious and deep. She moved into his embrace, already flicking the small nub of a tail on her backside.
For some reason I became fascinated with the couple, I had neglected my usual duties for my perch in front of the one way mirror. I searched their faces for the connection, the bond they shared. I wanted it for myself, yet could not imagine what how it could occur.
My parents had lived and worked on Erivin. The enormous trees supported the spider like Eriv, but it'd been decades before anyone had realized their sentience.
With usual Republic alacrity, the Colonization Corps moved in, set up shop, and declared Erivin a supply outpost for the mines along the inner frontier border. Great warehouses sprang up around the globe and trees fell in the path of progress.
My youth had been spent following that path, as Mom and Dad chained themselves to hypersaws and splitters in an attempt to save the ecology of Erivin. I'd been there as they they screamed at the Republic, though at the time I hadn't known why. I watched my parents rescue and save countless Eriv inhabitants.
The relationship between my parents was strange. They yelled constantly at each other, though laughter also prevailed. It seemed this congruity, the clash between rage and happiness, yelling and laughter, created a strong bond between them.
When the Republic declared an Emergency and began their attempts to quiet the natives, my parents were ordered off planet along with all other humans on the surface. Of course my parents stayed, the rebellious fire that burned within them would not allow them to leave, they feared for the safety of the natives and gave their lives fighting.
I had come to terms with their death long ago. I had decided that they were creatures of their own pursuit. And my own pursuits should not suffer as a consequence. Their teachings stayed with me, ingrained into my very soul. Hence Primeval.
Joseph cradled his wife's head. Her hair had long since diminished, replaced by sleek fur. Their faces had elongated, and the canines had lengthened. Speaking became impossible, but they communicated through touch.
The only touches I remembered as a youth had been accross my backside.
"Doctor?" My secretary interrupted my thoughts. "You have a great deal of work piling up in your office."
I stared at the Copelands, he holding her, she touching him. "Cancel my appointments for today," I murmured.
"You really can't keep doing this, the board will start to question," She said, her voice lilting with reprimand.
"I don't care what the board says!" I sat down in the chair provided in the room. "Cancel my appointments!"
Julie nodded quietly, and left the room.
Hands had begun to melt into paws. They watched this with fascination, and I remarked at the ease of transition. The nannites had anesthetized pain regions within the brain, any changes could come pain free and without discomfort. They looked at both sides of their new hands-- paws-- and smiled in response.
Usually Inmates would apply to my program and undergo the same battery of tests as the Copelands. Usually at this time in the process they were ready to turn back, screaming as each painless change manifested itself. They would hurl themselves against walls, batter furniture, shred bedding, all in response to the changes. Instinctual triggers dampened most of the rage, but some would carry over in the conscious mind of the individual.
I feared for the gentle Copelands on Primeval. Because though it would be a world of animals, a world left for nature. It also carried a fair amount of deranged beings. Beings whom at one time, had been human.
The last day of the Copelands' internment dawned bright, clear, and cold. Well, that's what my secretary told me anyway. I had spent their last nights in the viewing room, watching them slowly transform into the handsome wolves that now inhabited their small room. I had never seen a change first hand before; I initiated change and oversaw the placement of colonists, yet I could not remember one instance where I had witnessed even the smallest part.
They continued to be together, always in constant contact. Muzzles touching, flanks, tails, every waking moment they remained in contact.
I watched as the door, a substantially smaller door that the one they had entered, opened. The two rust-colored wolves turned their heads in the direction of the door and progressed warily inside. I could see the human traits still within them. Unused to scent as an investigative tool, Joseph had not marked his territory (though they had passed urine. It was one of the exit requirements).
Instincts had been impressed, however. They played together, leaping about the room and wrestling with each other happy with their new forms. Tails wagged, toenails clicked on the sterile floor, as the Copelands explored their new bodies.
My secretary had left me alone, cancelled all my appointments for the month and told the board I was deep in research. This was true. It was just not the type of research that accorded my position. I still had not puzzled out the connection, why they had agreed to do this. They had stayed together, unfazed through the whole process. My parents facing the same procedure, enclosed in that room would have driven each other insane.
My own relationships had paled in comparison to what I had witnessed. Oh, I'd had relationships, their faces paraded in front of me with each turn of a pelted tail. Yet it seemed I had observed these relationships from afar, rarely the participant. The women had sensed this, and moved on to more devoted companion.
It seemed I had always been the observer, always been the watcher even growing up. I had watched my parents; two searing bright points of life, fight for something they truly believed in, truly loved. I abhorred the Erivin although my parents loved them. They saved them (or tried to save them) and cared for them. Their prickly nine legged forms gave me nightmares, continued to give me nightmares even as an adult. Their eating habits repulsed me. How could an entire civilized race be based on a culture that thrived on eating its own young?
Yet still my parents had fought. I had watched their relationship in the process, their fights, their laughter, their lovemaking . . . .yet still I was unfulfilled.
The government had noticed my research with nannites, and their possibility. Primeval was their absolution, their cry to the world:'hey look, we're doing something right for once!' I allowed myself to be used by the Republic, the research was so new, the goal so ambitious. I felt if my parents were watching, they would have approved.
But it hadn't been the glorious research I had envisioned. I was an administrator, a bureaucrat. I made decisions, pushed paper, read charts, observed outcomes. I did not participate, could not go down to Primeval and feel the new planet with my fingers.
The Copelands entered the small enclosure, which quickly closed, encasing them for the voyage to Primeval. They would enter Deepsleep together, and wake up on their new homeworld.
I sighed, watching them fall asleep on the monitors, curled into one ball, one being. Primeval would be a shock to them. especially when they confronted their first Colonist. And if that Colonist happened to be a felon . . . .
I was tired of being the watcher. Time to start being watched.
I wondered what data existed for bears on Primeval.
What Kind of Love copyright 1997 by Mike Nelson.
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