art by David L. Transue
by Mark A. Rayner
The lion just popped into the duty-free shop.
One moment I was watching my suspect through the store window, pretending that I was looking at a new line of
holographic cosmetics, and the next moment, there was a lion a fully-grown male standing there.
For a fraction of a second the well-to-do shoppers waiting for their flights at Mulroney International were delighted. A lion, you could almost hear them thinking, what a charming promotional idea. Then it roared and turned on the nearest person, an elderly woman looking at a set of Brazilian dataglasses. One rake of its claws was enough to cut off her scream and fill the air with the coppery scent of death. The crowd started shouting and running, which was precisely the wrong thing to do with an aggressive and confused animal. It hunted the loudest of the terrified crowd and killed again. The duty-free shop was at the airport for sub-orbital craft near Metoronto. I was there following a young fem doctor. She was suspected of illegally treating wealthy patients with a gene-resequencing protocol owned by one of our employers, Thai Biogenics.
That file was unexpectedly closed when the lion killed my suspect next. Then the beast was outside the shop. It ran past me, following the crowd as it flowed down the corridor toward the security check.
I wasn't rated to carry arms, so there was little I could do. Not that I could have done anything anyway. A simian terror gripped me, an evolutionary remnant that in lieu of sending me scampering up a tree, paralyzed me. I can still remember the look of shock staring at me from the glass display case, my plain-jane face set in a mask of disbelief and horror.
I'm not sure what was more shocking. The fact that a lion was there, or the fact that I froze. I'd always thought I'd been compensated for my homely square jaw and widely set eyes with an unnatural bravery . . .
"What a brave girl!"
Those were the words I had loved to hear when I was growing up.
It didn't really matter who said it: when the doctors gave me my AIDS C vaccination and I didn't cry, or when the teachers commended me for not screaming that time I broke my arm. Though of course, I think I liked those words best when my Daddy said them.
Daddy was the Bravest Man in the World. Definitely capitalized. He was a Protector, a police officer with the BioForce, back when their job was to protect people from dangerous biotechnology and new diseases, before the way it is now.
I remember the last time he said those coveted words to me. I had been playing outside our house in Orillia, a little bedroom community north of Metoronto, right on Lake Simcoe, and that meanie Billy Neal called me Gruesome Gracey and pushed me down. Did I cry? No, I got up and pushed him down. Big meanie.
"What a brave girl, Grace," Daddy had said. "But sometimes force isn't the only way."
That was before he died in Africa. An accident, they said, though my mother didn't explain it to me at the time. Instead, she said a lion killed him. Maybe she thought that would be easier for a little girl to hear than the truth. A new strain of Ebola B, the same airborne horror that depopulated most of Africa, ravaged his vascular system and he bled to death. I'm not sure if she thought I wouldn't understand what Ebola B was, or if she thought it would scare me more. But it was really her own fear at work. In those days, they never knew when a new strain of some terrible disease would kill millions. But to a little girl, the thought of my Brave Daddy getting eaten by a lion was much more immediate and easy to imagine than the microbial world. I used to watch documentaries about how African wildlife was filling in the ecological niches left in the absence of humanity. There were more lions in Africa then than at any time in recorded history. After Daddy died, I couldn't watch them any more. They terrified me.
At the funeral, I was a Really Brave Girl. The minister said so.
When I got a little older, and I knew what really happened, I understood why Mom said what she said. But the truth didn't change my goal; I wanted to be a biocop like my Daddy. I wanted to protect people from diseases like the one that wiped out Africa and killed him. But being brave wasn't good enough. By the time I got through university, you had to know someone in the BioForce to get in, and nobody remembered my father. The best I could manage was to join a private investigation firm that specialized in genetic copyright violation. Which was why I was in the airport. . . The thought of how disappointed my Daddy would be was rushing through my head, slowly easing me back from my fear. A moment later I could hear the high-pitched whine of flechettes ripping through flesh, and an agonized howl from the lion. I was later told it killed seven people, including my suspect, and it only took a minute and a half!
I could move again when I heard it die. Then I immediately went to help the wounded. What a good girl. What a brave girl! Not that there was much I could do. The animal was an efficient killer. My suspect was quite dead. Blood was still pumping slowly out of her ravaged throat in final arterial jerks. One victim survived and I managed to tourniquet his thigh wound, to stop the bleeding before he died too.
Then I noticed the shelves. From what I remembered, it was at the spot the lion had appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. Everything on the shelves was gone the food, the packaging, even parts of the shelves themselves. Like acid had eaten everything away.
The sight was a startling one, but when I saw the bomb I forgot all about it.
It was a quaint attack, in an age of biological terrors. Response teams and ambulances were pouring into the shopping area of the airport when I saw the device was there. My warning gave everyone just enough time to get to a safe distance. The bomb experts never made it to the site before the thermal detonation. Everything was incinerated in a thirty-meter radius.
But it was the lion that caught everyone's attention. Especially BioForce. After the Constituency of Corporations, the policing operation got more involved in protecting the interests of the multinationals. They scented a new technology they had yet to exploit. As a PI, and an eye-witness, I spent the next few weeks on the hot seat with BioForce, which was in charge of the investigating the incident.
The people in charge of the investigation pumped me for every conceivable detail about that day except how I had frozen during the attack. They probably didn't even know I was hiding something, and it never would have occurred to them that a fem in such a low-prestige position like mine would try. An extremely prim, attractive in a severe East Indian way, but definitely prim psychologist named Dr. Amansa knew I was hiding something. She couldn't figure out what. It made them more interested in me. Particularly, the BioForce inspector, a sallow man with a sneering smile and hard eyes, named Kirkley. I'd taken an honest dislike to the man, not only because he was condescending and cruel, but because he treated Amansa like a servant. He was the kind of guy that normally would look at me once and dismiss me because I was not beautiful -- but he should have treated her with a little more respect. She and Kirkley were interviewing me for the nth time, when an underling poked his head in the door and said, "Turn on the video. It's AfricaNow!"
He mis-pronounced it. AfricaNow! was a splinter group of the Gaians who thought that Africa should be left to restore itself to a natural balance, free from human interference. They had always been non-violent but their spokesfem was explaining their change of heart.
"AfricaNow! has decided we cannot engage in peaceful tactics while the corporations," she spit the word with disdain, "ravage our Goddess with impunity."
The woman was wearing the robes of a Gaian Priestess. But I didn't notice that so much. There was something about the fem. She exuded confidence and integrity. She was voluptuous I'd heard the Gaians were a religious organization based on a scientific theory, but there was something sensual, not scientific, about the woman. I shook myself from the reverie and listened closely to her words, trying to distance myself from her emotive, persuasive speech. ". . . our demands are simple. Africa must remain unpopulated. That includes small 'resource missions' from any of the corporations." Again she spit the word. "If we can put a 400 kilo cat into one of your most secure airports, imagine how easy it would be to place much more efficient killers into water supplies and the air you breath." The transmission ended and a smarmy television reporter came on to gabble TV-style inanities.
The goal of keeping Africa wild was supported by environmental groups, but there was virtually no chance of it happening. There was just too much wealth in Africa waiting to be drawn out. The multinationals were busy carving up the continent just as the European powers had done in the 19th century.
Kirkley motioned to Amansa, and they left me in the room with the vapid announcer.
They left me in there for about an hour. Finally Amansa returned, looking probably as flustered as she ever gets. In other words, more composed than I've ever been.
"Well, Grace, you don't mind if I call you Grace do you?"
"No . . . Johindhra," I smiled. She arched an eyebrow either at the familiarity or the fact that I'd memorized her name when she first flashed me her ID badge. But I did want to establish that I had a brain and could use it.
"Yes," she smiled unctuously. "This woman, this spokeswoman for the AN, Laska, her name is. She is known to us."
"Well, that's going to make it easier to find her."
"Hmm. One might think so, but she seems capable of detecting BioForce agents easily. We have tried to arrest her before. Our thought was to commission you as a Temporary Officer. Though you would only be on temporary service with BioForce, the status will remain on your permanent employee's record. Other Police Agencies of the Constituency will view your job applications more favorably."
"Ah. Because you are available, and you have proven yourself at least adaptable enough to deal with the situation at the airport. And to keep something about it from me." She smiled.
"Okay. But what's the real reason?"
"Laska will undoubtably find you irresistible. I say this not to embarrass you -- I imagine that you have never found yourself irresistible, no? But it is what you should expect. We have a reliable psychological profile of her in this regard, through those agents of hers we have captured of course. It will distract her from your mission." I must have looked confused. "She is attracted to uh, plain women like yourself. She will try to seduce you. At first this may seem a little frightening to you."
"Why do you say that?"
"Oh, well . . . can I be honest with you Grace?" I nodded, guardedly. "You have had very little positive experience with men, no? You do not have to answer, our psychological profile system is very accurate. But the essence of the matter is that you have never been seduced; properly courted and seduced. I'm sure you have had encounters with whatever men may have been inclined to try."
I was offended by the way she said that. But it was devastatingly accurate. From Billy Neal on, men never seemed to like me in a flattering way. None of them seemed to care how brave I was. Or tough. It was probably the opposite.
She saw that the truth hurt. "I say this to prepare you Grace, not to embarrass you. It is unfortunate that men continue to be drawn towards such simplistic things as youth, the proper breast to waist to hip ratios and so on. But to be fair, we also are still drawn to similar analogs. Evolution is a difficult thing to overcome." This last point was the only thing she said that made me feel better, but only because of what had happened at the airport. Perhaps I wasn't a coward. Maybe it really was some distant evolutionary remnant that made me freeze up. The psychologist was still talking, "but I say this to prepare you Grace, to ready you for the feelings of uncertainty you will experience when Laska approaches you."
"So what you're saying is she has a taste for bull-dykes?"
"No!" If anything, the subject was upsetting Amansa more than me. "She likes to seduce straight fems . . . I mean women. Women." I grinned, happy to dislodge the Queen from her perch of primness, even briefly.
And so, I was sent on my way to track down this Laska, the Mata Hari of the Saphho set. They sent me to Prague, Laska's birthplace, and the last city where she'd been sighted.
It was the last place you'd expect to find a coven of New Agers bent on keeping Africa pristine. I'd never been to Europe before, the airfare was just too expensive for a gumshoe like me, but when the sub-orbital plane came into the airport at "Praha", I was thrilled at the chance to see Europe.
She met me there.
It was going to be a short mission. Other agents were monitoring me.
But I forgot about them in the moment I met her. She was more astonishing in person than on television.
I should say that despite consistently poor treatment from men, I'm still attracted to them. But there was something about Laska. She was physically beautiful, but more than that, she was lit from the interior, a light that burned from her eyes and flowed into a grace in her every movement. She was sensual and charming in every motion. She handed me a bouquet, heady with scent and color. I noticed a number of daisies in the arrangement, flowers that I had always liked. Nobody had ever given me daisies before. Nobody had given me flowers before, except Daddy.
She kissed me on both cheeks, Russian style -- or French -- and said in an impossibly husky voice, "I'm glad you're here."
"Oh yes. Your presence means they are taking us seriously. And besides . . ." she looked at me and smiled suggestively. She took my hand and led me into a waiting taxi.
There was a confusion of noise behind me, an argument, an altercation, but I didn't realize it was BioForce, losing my tail. Laska held my hand while she talked: "We knew you were coming Grace. And I'm so glad. At last, someone in the BioForce who understands what we are trying to achieve. Independence for Gaia, for her continents." She was holding my hand, did I mention that? Her eyes were two pools of luminous blue, and they held me like spotlights. She could do that with them, she could pin anything with her eyes. I listened, rapt. "We have a very special task for you Grace. We need you to convince the Corporations that we mean to succeed. Can you do that? Don't answer yet. We need to show you a few things first."
Then she leaned over and kissed me. A thrill ran up my spine, bursting out the top of my head and down through my... well... things got woozy and I guess I passed out from a drug she had secreted in her lipstick.
Lions. I dreamed of lions.
I woke up in a bright, sunny room. I was not in a city, I knew that right away because I couldn't smell the ubiquitous sterility of pavement. Light cotton drapes fluttered in a breeze that smelled of the forest. I got up, and walked out the door of my room, out into a wonderland.
There were lions and lionesses everywhere. The place was an old abbey, but all the cells had been remodeled to let in as much light and air as possible, so it looked more like a Roman villa than a Benedictine monastery. I walked through the enclosed compound in a dream. There was no other explanation, because there were lions nearby and my fear was distant. Fading.
These were not statues. They were real beasts of sinew and claw, silhouetting the skyline and the white arches created by light and stone. Silently, they watched me walk toward the chapel, which was overgrown with cedar trees, roses and a wild assortment of other flowers I didn't recognize. A few daisies littered the base of the stairs. I walked up.
Laska was waiting for me, reclining on a couch of purple. Several buckets sat before her with an overpowering odor of decay. I wrinkled my nose. "Sorry about that, but we have some humus here to show you how it works. Watch," she said in answer to my unvoiced question. She produced a handful of seed and poured it on the buckets. There was a slight tugging sensation, a little pop, and then there was a lion standing between us. It purred mightily, rubbed up against Laska, and then sauntered over to me. A thrill of terror swam in my head.
"Go ahead," Laska urged with a smile. I complied and patted the beast.
It purred again, and then like any other cat, found something else of interest. I was amazed, and something else too. My fear was transformed to rapture.
"So you see?" she asked.
"How we can repopulate Africa with native species -- all of them. And then the rest of the Earth."
It didn't follow. "And humans?"
"A few must die. A die-back the ecologists call it. Evolution. The Gaian Principle. We have out-stepped our bounds. If a few millions die now, billions can be saved from the Corporations."
I nodded. I understood. BioForce wasn't about saving people anymore. It was about saving profits.
"So you will tell them? You will stress our message?"
I nodded again, not sure if I could be brave enough. But it was what she wanted. She came over to me, and kissed me again. This time, I did not collapse. But the charge of excitement flowed through me, and I kissed her back. The lions roaring outside echoed the blood rushing in my ears as we fell onto her couch.
I awoke in a hotel room somewhere. Dr. Johindhra Amansa gazed into my eyes, concerned. "You have suffered two extreme drug overdoses," she explained calmly, "and your judgement may be forfeit." Prim bitch.
I said Bravely, "I'm okay. I know what they can do."
It was obvious that her masters were watching from elsewhere. I walked to the window -- it was still sunny, but a new day, judging from the ache in my muscles and the fuzz on my tongue. Outside I could make out the buzz of Wenceslas Square. The drapes billowed in pathetic imitation of Laska's retreat. I explained how they got the lion into the airport: some kind of new genetic nanotechnology that could cannibalize its surroundings for the elements necessary to create a new form, and make it live. Somehow, the DNA was programmed in a way to make the new life form -- in the case of two I'd seen, lions - do what they wanted. Dr. Amansa was professionally cool, but I could see the worry in her eyes.
Callow Kirkley poked his yellow head in the room, and said, "we've tracked them."
"Let me bring them in," I said resolutely.
"Really?" Dr. Amansa asked.
"Really. I still think they are dangerous, no matter how charismatic Laska is, no matter what kind of feelings she can awake. I warn you Doctor, don't judge me until she's in custody. She has a powerful thing and... and it has nothing, nothing, to do with being plain."
They let me go. It was a longer drive than I remember, so I guess Laska had really drugged me that first time, hoping to lose the BioForce tracking systems. It took nearly an hour and a half to drive south into the lightly wooded hills and fields of Sumava. Kirkley let me out of the car about three miles from Laska, gave me a map and a compass, and pointed me in the right direction.
It was easy to find. There was only one 'abandoned' monastery in the area. Laska met me at the gate. I didn't waste any time. I kissed her, though it wasn't the same as when she had drugged me. This was real. She had thick sensual lips that pressed up against my thin mouth and opened me voluptuously. Something I'd never learned.
Breathless, I said, "You probably have about three minutes until they're here."
She didn't say a word. She turned and ran back to the chapel and disappeared forever. The lions came down from their perches and stood around me in a circle, I'm still not sure whether to keep me from following AfricaNow! or to keep BioForce from me.
The lions growled as the BioForce troops poured in, but they didn't attack. They lay down and let themselves be captured, just like me...
BioForce knew I had betrayed them, that I had allowed Laska to escape.. And I told them why.
What a brave girl.
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