Content warning: This story contains strong language.
Vientiane Keeling’s alarm blared at three in the morning, and she rose with a smile on her face. Today’s the day. She took a functional shower; dressed in her rough outdoors gear; and ate a breakfast of a baguette, jam, and fresh fruit, and a single hard-boiled egg with chili paste, while she waited for her hair to dry, before tying it back in a simple bun. She folded her long, silken sabai neatly in quarters lengthwise and packed it into her briefcase along with her PAD. At four fifteen, she left her high-rise condo and descended to the arcology’s hopper bunker.
The attendant clone, a dreary looking Tenma, had Vientiane’s hopper waiting on the lilypad, fully charged and ready to go. He did not look nearly as chipper as she did. “I cleaned the hopper as you asked, Ms. Keeling, and I paid special attention to dusting the vents.” She curtly thanked him and waved him off before tossing her briefcase onto the secondary seat and following swiftly into the prime seat, the door automatically closing behind her. Recognizing and verifying her biometrics, the hydrogen fuel cells started up.
“Autopilot. Work. Issuaq main office.” She said in crisp, clear commands. Moments later, she was off, smoothly soaring through the dawn. Meanwhile, the parking bunker attendant went back to sleep in his tiny booth.
Vientiane’s PAD, too, scanned and verified her biometric data before booting up. The process took nanoseconds, but she could swear she noticed the delay. Immediately, she pulled up the latest population data, checked it over, and frowned. For the rest of the flight, she distracted herself with busywork, preparing for the visit from Jinteki HQ’s auditor that afternoon.
Her assistant–a short, bookwormish Greenlander named Pilu–met her on the office lilypad looking just as bright-eyed as Vientiane. They were waiting with a small ATV, gassed and ready to go, and two thermoses of gourmet Yucabean.
“The crew is already at the fence,” Pilu shouted over the high-pitched whine of the hopper’s electromagnetic hoverfoil rotors, as Vientiane extracted herself.
“Let’s go,” Vientiane yelled back as she scrambled into the passenger’s seat of the ATV. Pilu took the driver’s seat, and they headed out to the far side of the mammoth pens.
The ATV bucked and kicked underneath the duo as they drove across the hilly terrain, but Vientiane was used to the rough ride. She’d been out to the acclimation pens almost every day since the mammoths had first been transferred there.
“I saw the numbers this morning,” she shouted to Pilu. “What happened last night?”
“We lost twelve giant beavers, eleven to illegal killing by farmers and one to an accident. Some poor schmuck hit one with a ground vehicle.”
“A likely story. This sounds like a concerted effort by those hicks. They’re not satisfied to just fight us in the courts; they have to take matters into their own hands. I want a two-pronged attack: first, see if we can buy off the land between us and them. I want as much territory as possible for these animals. And I want to make it so if they shoot any in the future, they’ll be trespassing on Issuaq property. Second–consult this with legal–see what kind of civil charges we can bring against these poachers. Bring the hammer down on whoever doesn’t cooperate with the buyout.”
“Accounting isn’t going to like that.”
Vientiane stared off towards the end of the mammoth enclosure. “Fuck accounting.”
“Noted. There’s more.”
“I noticed. What happened with the mito pools?”
“Some eco-‘activists’ dumped a barrel of mixed chemicals into vat 11E. Biotechs has the breakdown as lye, trisenox, and liquid phosgene. The mixture spread to about 65% of the east mitosis pools before crews could contain the spills. They all have to be scrubbed and restarted.”
Vientiane froze, flabbergasted.
“Those reactionary, radical eco-fascists have the gall to call me a danger to the environment!? I’m out here creating new life! Restoring the ecosystem! Fuck! That’s the entire east pool gone. Once we get these mammoths out, I’m going to force-feed those anti-progressives their own poison. Do we have any leads from security?”
“We have a partial facial recognition on one of them from the cameras before they went dark.”
“Forward it to law enforcement. Also, reach out to your contacts at RED Netsec. See if they can reconstruct the rest of the face. I want these terrorists found.”
Pilu keyed a couple notes into their PAD and the two of them rode the rest of the distance in silence. Vientiane admired her handiwork as they drove. Where once had been rugged, harsh tundra, was now lush with vegetation and flourishing fauna. All thanks to me.
When they reached the far edge of the mammoth acclimation pen, the Henry clones were already there, looking as dejected and sullen as they always did. Vientiane’s mood had soured considerably since breakfast, and she did not have the energy to mollycoddle some moody equipment.
“What are you waiting for? Cut it open!” she yelled as she disembarked from the ATV.
The clones nodded in habituated assent.
Vientiane had already opened the main gates to the mammoth enclosure yesterday, but that exit was too close to the main facility and associated with human interaction. Here, they were cutting a hole in the fence near to where the animals frequently grazed. Hopefully, this egress would be more appealing to the mammoths.
The clones powered up the generators, fired up their arc-cutters, and went to begin disassembling the five-metre high, reinforced fence.
“Wait!” shouted Pilu. Everyone turned to stare at them. Pilu used the PAD on their wrist and called the main lab. “This is Pilu calling from the far side of the temporary mammoth enclosure. Is the electricity to the fence off?” A pause. “Thanks.” They ended the call. “Alright, good to go!”
And so, Vientiane and Pilu sat there on the ATV, overseeing as the clones slowly cut out a large section of fence. By now it was six o’clock, and the sun was well above the horizon. The mammoths themselves had heard the noise and came over to investigate, but they maintained a careful distance.
It was just as the clones were nearly complete when Vientiane’s PAD pinged urgently with a call from the main office.
“What is it?” answered Vientiane brusquely.
“A bunch of lawyers from Waldau Coster were just here to serve you with papers directly. I tried to delay them, but they wouldn’t take no for an answer. They’re en route to you–”
She hung up and shouted, “Hurry it up, clones! I want this wall down in the next five minutes!”
Waldau Coster was the firm representing the local agricultural conglomerate that saw the reintroduction of previously extinct species as a threat to their farming business. Vientiane turned her attention to the horizon in the direction of the main office. After a couple minutes, she saw a dot appear. Without turning to look, she yelled out to the clones, “Are you done yet?”
“Just removing the last debris now, Ms. Keeling!”
“Get it done, then clear the area! These mammoths are coming out today, come hell or high water!”
Vientiane continued to watch the dot as it coalesced into a sports hopper, and another, larger, bulkier one peeled out from behind it. How many lawyers did they bring?
“All done, Ms. Keeling!” cried a clone from somewhere behind her. Vientiane whirled around. There was indeed a hole cut in the fence, more than wide enough for two mammoths abreast to pass through.
By now, Vientiane could hear the purring of the hoppers’ engines as they closed in on her. She stared defiantly as they touched down on the flattest section of ground they could find. Two sharply dressed lawyers disembarked from the elegant sports hopper, mud coating their expensive shoes. The pair who exited the second, much rougher and larger, hopper, were also dressed professionally, but more stylishly than the lawyers. Vientiane was at a loss as to their roles until a cam-drone flew out of the trunk. Ugh, the press. The entourage approached Vientiane, and she noticed that the cam-drone was already recording.
“Ms. Keeling,” announced what was evidently the senior lawyer, “this is an injunction, barring you from releasing the mammoths, by order of Judge Blennow.”
“Come now,” Vientiane said cooly, “this was settled last week, and Judge Blennow denied your injunction.”
“We appealed the denial, and she changed her mind.” He held out a PAD displaying a holo of the injunction, with the judge’s biometrics confirmed.
“What!?” Vientiane snatched the PAD from the lawyer and began angrily flipping through the pages of the injunction.
“We heard you were to release the mammoths today, so we came here to serve it to you personally. I see we’re not a moment too late.” He nodded smugly towards the gaping hole in the fence which the mammoths were now crowding around apprehensively.
A flicker of movement caught her eye. The cam-drone was hovering about a meter away from her, focussing on her face. She calmed herself.
“As you can see, we’ve already cut the fence open, and we don’t have the tools to repair it here. There’s nothing we can do to prevent them from getting out.”
The lawyer’s face was impassive. “You are responsible for keeping those mammoths in your enclosure until this case is decided. How you do that is not our concern.”
“That’s outrageous! This court case will take years, and if we keep them enclosed that whole time, it’ll ruin the project. I’m not going to scrap the whole line over your fear and greed!”
“You should’ve thought of that before you started to breed extinct animals. The law is the law, and this injunction says you are not allowed to release them.”
“Fine,” Vientiane snapped, “let’s see if your injunction really will stop a herd of mammoths.” With that, she flung the lawyer’s PAD into the hole in the fence, and it landed nearly exactly on the threshold. She hoped one of the mammoths would step on it on their way out, but they were still too timid for that. They were curious about the PAD though, and one of them reached out with its trunk and sniffed at it, before curling its trunk around it and popping it experimentally in its mouth.
Anger shone through the lawyer’s previously stony façade. “You are in contempt of a direct court order. There will be repercussions for this. And we’re going to have to invoice you for the cost of that PAD.”
The mammoth spat the PAD out and nudged it on the ground with its trunk.
“If you want to try and stop these mammoths from leaving, be my guest. If that’s all, I am needed at my office.” Vientiane turned around and flipped the bird over her shoulder to the assembled lawyers and reporters. She hopped back onto the ATV and motioned for Pilu to drive her back.
Vientiane got back to her office, checked the time on her PAD, and swore. This day just keeps getting worse. She kicked off her clothes and showered in the en suite. She dried her hair, towelled off, and dressed in the freshly pressed suit that she had had delivered to her office. She kept a spare makeup kit here for days like this, and put on a full face; as a final touch, she wrapped her sabai over her shoulder and under her opposite arm. The whole process took about two hours, so she had to skip lunch, as the auditor from Jinteki HQ was due shortly after noon.
All the heads of staff were waiting in the main lobby. Vientiane was pleased to see they had all taken her memo regarding formal dress seriously. The driver for the auditor had checked in: Mr. Fujiwara Sachio had landed at Nuuk and was now en route to Issuaq HQ.
Vientiane had thoroughly researched Mr. Fujiwara’s background in preparation for this visit. From what she could glean from the files she had clearance to, Mr. Fujiwara was one of Jinteki’s old guard, brought on early in the Hiro era; he was conservative and traditional, and notoriously strict with his evaluations, which had Vientiane sweating. Issuaq was starting to make real revenue from tourist streams–everyone wanted to be the first to see a real mammoth–but they were primarily a research facility, and ultimately dependent on Jinteki HQ for funding. She hoped against hope that her stunt this morning at the mammoth enclosure hadn’t yet been seen by Mr. Fujiwara.
When they were notified that the hopper was less than a minute out, all idle chatter in the lobby ceased, and the assembly executives stood there staring ahead, like children expecting punishment at the principal’s office. A well-dressed Tenma clone opened the door, and ushered Mr. Fujiwara in.
“Greetings!” The entire assembly chorused in variously practiced levels of Japanese and bowed low at the waist. Mr. Fujiwara returned the bow, but at a much shallower angle.
Vientiane stepped forward and offered her hand. “Greetings, Mr. Fujiwara. It is an honor to have you here. I am Vientiane Keeling, chief operations officer and lead scientist at Issuaq Adaptics. I will be your tour guide for today.” She managed in shaky Japanese.
Mr. Fujiwara smiled politely. “Thank you. Shall we begin?”
She started the tour with the aquatic side, using the west mitosis pools. The previously extinct kelp strains and varieties of different small fish usually weren’t that impressive to tourists. However, Mr. Fujiwara seemed interested, and asked pertinent questions about how the fish had been bred, how the DNA was recovered and restored, where the kelp had been reintroduced, and so on. Vientiane was proud that she was able to respond in Japanese without reaching for any English terms, however foreign her pronunciation may have been. They continued the tour, and as Vientiane expected, the Steller’s sea cows were not visible in the viewing area. Then she took him on a tour of the laboratories themselves. This was brief, as most of their equipment came from Jinteki manufacturers, though he did have a lot of questions about organizational structure, security practices, and employee reviews. Finally, she took him to the terrestrial acclimation pens.
“We have a smilodon back in our facilities healing from injuries it received in the wild, if you’d like to see one up close.”
Mr. Fujiwara nodded and smiled, but this time the smile reached his eyes, however briefly. She brought him to the attached veterinary clinic, where a tranquilized sabretooth cat was currently recovering from surgery. Vientiane had expressly delayed the animal’s operation so it would be available for this tour. It lay on an enormous cat bed in its cage, breathing shallowly.
“Is it safe?” Mr. Fujiwara asked when Vientiane motioned for the two of them to enter the cage, where a veterinarian was monitoring the big cat’s vitals, and a ranger stood by with a tranq gun.
Mr. Fujiwara cautiously walked inside and approached the sleeping tiger. “May I touch it?”
He approached the cat and laid his hand on the coarse fur of its rising and falling belly and began rubbing it like one would a housecat. His hand moved up to the tiger’s head, and he very gently touched the large, protruding canines.
“You’ve really done it.” He said with a hint of childlike wonder. “You’ve brought back the dead.”
They concluded the tour in her office. Vientiane took the chair normally used by guests, and Mr. Fujiwara sat in her seat.
“I’m very impressed by the progress you’ve made here,” he began, “but I notice you’ve been having external challenges.”
“Yes, we-” He interrupted her with a raised hand.
“I’m referring to this.” He tapped his PAD and brought up a news feed. It featured a holo of Vientiane at the mammoth enclosure this morning. “And this.” He brought up an internal incident report of the latest eco-terrorist acts in the east mitosis pools. “And there’s more.” Vientiane sat flushed with embarrassment. “Until now, we’ve been content to fund Issuaq without wanting anything in return. You were good for publicity, but these problems are beginning to pile up and you’re starting to make us look bad.” Vientiane was certain he was going to pull funding. “However, like I said, we are impressed by your work. Therefore, I have a proposal for you: Jinteki HQ will lend its full support to you: our lawyers, our sysops, our undocumented assets. In return, Issuaq will take on the occasional pet project directed by HQ. Is that something you can live with?”
“By ‘undocumented assets’ do you mean…”
“I mean bribery, extortion, and assassination.”
“Only as a last resort, Ms. Keeling.”
Vientiane sat back. She reflected on all the challenges she and her team had faced, when all they were trying to do was save the world. She thought about the greedy agricultural industries, intent on turning Greenland into nothing but farming acreage, or the cowardly eco-terrorists that accused her of playing God but were content to poison her facilities.
“What kinds of ‘pet projects’ are we talking about? If you want to turn us into a facility to breed fatter gogs…” She responded in English, but Mr. Fujiwara cut her off.
“Please, Ms. Keeling, we have our entire Indian branch working on gogs. Your help is not needed there.” He steadfastly refused to switch to English himself.
“Take a look at this.” He handed her a memstick and thumbed off its encryption.
Vientiane plugged the memstick into her PAD and scrolled through the project proposal, her eyes widening and her mouth slightly agape.
“This is human experimentation.”
Mr. Fujiwara sat silently, patiently. Vientiane made her choice.
“Where do I sign?”
Parhelion will be released digitally on December 9, 2022, on Jinteki.net and as pay-what-you-want print-and-play files, and, on December 12, 2022, as physical cards via Null Signal Games’s store, our print-on-demand partners, and our authorized resellers.