Tales of Three Worlds

Fragment Six: Breeding

“What now?” 

I tried to keep the irritation out of my voice, but it was difficult.  The vidscreen showed the Triad Board’s logo at the top: an inverted triangle with the words Diversity—Development—Determination circling it.  I had plenty of the first two, but was running out of the third.  This was not the first rejection we’d gotten, nor the second.  How hard could it be to file an application to start a relationship as co-mates?  Sure, Silver Eagle and I didn’t have the female member arranged yet—but that wasn’t a reason to deny even the first step…was it?

…Insufficient Documentation…had been the conclusion of the first application.  So I’d submitted my genealogy from my personal files, going back to my great-grandfather Hartmann Hallbach who’d died in the destruction of the Star Seeker, Mankind’s first effort to leave the Solar System.  Just in case the records from the now-destroyed Compound in Finland hadn’t been updated recently.

…Verification Needed…was the second notice.  I’d looked at Silver Eagle’s near white blond hair and brown eyes with consternation.  “Bureaucratic double-speak,” he’d laughed with the slack-jawed ‘thal gesture I’d adopted since I’d arrived at Tycho Deep almost two years earlier.  Humans were a minority on Luna, but mixed freely with their re-created brethren in every settlement.  Of the few survivors from ‘The Hunt’ of the Hallbach-Sommers Line, most had stayed here rather than head out to Mars…at least here you could look up and see home from our place of exile.

Now we were staring at the third reply, and this one was more puzzling than the first two had been.

No Recorded Genome... 

But that was impossible—every birth was recorded with a sample of the infant’s DNA, an entirely fool-proof form of identification since everything else could be altered later by cosmetic surgery or deliberate removal.  To enroll in school I’d needed proper ID which my parents had provided.  Silver Eagle had a simple solution—contact the hospital where I’d been born…except I’d been born at home, or so my parents had told me.  “Then you would have been registered in the nearest town’s government center, and we can get copies in a few hours,” he replied putting his strong arm around my shoulders.

Though the gesture made me feel safe and warm, it did nothing to improve my mood—the nearest place like that was the pile of radioactive rubble that was the first overt strike against my family.  My co-mate wasn’t going to give up that easily.  “Right, Harm—we’ll go down to the Triad Board and they’ll take the sample there—by the end of the day we should have our answer.”   

Tycho Deep was typical of lunar cities: the public corridors and parks were caverns or lava tunnels which had been sealed to hold atmosphere, while offices, residences and other public areas were carved from native rock.  Temperatures were maintained at 75° and the lighting kept to the normal Earth cycle of 24-hour days, even changing hue and intensity to simulate dawn and sunset.  With no weather or seasons to bother them, most ‘thals and humans wore simple outfits of shorts and soft boots; shirts were optional for both sexes, but custom favored wearing one in business situations for health reasons rather than any sense or need for imposed modesty.   

Living in Tycho was a startling experience for me after growing up in the NorAmbloc and the Compound in Finland.  Most of the scientific research that had once been done in Finland was now centered on Luna and Mars thanks to the rise of the Genetic Authority, but family life there had been open and freer than in the rest of the states controlled by that organization.  Discussions of science and politics were intense and critical of the GA’s restrictions on technology, mostly centered on matters involving the human species.  No genetic tampering, no augmentation of the species at all except for disease-specific cures.  Every person’s genetic code was scanned and registered at birth, which set the baseline for any potential nano-bot injections later in life.  If you developed a terminal disease, then you were allowed pain-reducing nanos, but nothing else.

Some areas like NorAm were less restrictive regarding treatments of diseases, but even there using nano-bots as a secondary immunity and health service was not permitted, hence my lack of nanos when Blue Dragon had brought me to Luna.  But that didn’t explain my missing Genome.  I now had the standard nanobots which had been administered when I arrived, but my thought that that had given the doctors my genome had apparently been mistaken…merely an assessment of my health and what would be done to bring it to optimum levels.  Still, that would soon be remedied, and our application for co-mate status could be granted.

With lunar gravity being one-sixth that of Earth, ‘walking’ became an entirely different exercise—more of a ‘loping-glide’ than individual footsteps.  It might look ungainly to Earth-trained eyes, but it ate up distance without too much effort, and swimming in the city parks was more like flying than anything else.  On Earth parks were places to exercise by running, playing sports or hiking to burn off calories and build muscles…here, exercise was taken in specialized facilities with heavy weights attached to simulate your mass at one-gee, and exercise machines had far higher resistance parameters to compensate for Luna’s lesser gravity.  To avoid any health problems, exercise was mandatory for everyone at weekly levels indicated by your nano-determined needs.  At first, I thought nano-bots took care of everything, but the human body needed conditioning to assist in maintaining itself properly.

It wasn’t long before we got to the Triad Board’s offices, their triangular logo displayed on either side of a large arch-way.  The small waiting room was a surprise—I thought it would be larger with all the activity the organization held sway over.  Behind a neat desk, a brown-haired ‘thal greeted us with a circular motion over his heart.  We returned the greeting and I let Silver Eagle tell him why we were here. “Co-mate applications are normally done online,” he said with a questioning tone in his mellow voice.

Both Silver Eagle and I knew that, and informed him of the messages we’d gotten from our attempts to register.  With our names and retina scans, he was able to call up our records, and was frowning within seconds of scanning the first pages.  “Silver Eagle, there is no problem with your portion of the application…nor the lack of a female co-mate….”  He was flicking through pages on the slanted part of his desktop that served as a vidscreen.  “The delay seems to be in Mr. Halveg’s documentation.”

Yes, determination was definitely flagging in the face of bureaucracy.  In as calm a tone as I could muster—for impoliteness was frowned upon in ‘thal society—I informed the clerk that I’d submitted my family history in response to the first message, and that I’d submitted my Academy records for more details and that should have included my genomic profile.  “Now we get the latest which says there is no genome for me…I went to that school for ten years, and I know my parents gave them a copy of my profile.”

“I see the receipt of your files is registered, and that a Level One scan passed them, but an orange flag went up which initiated a Level Two examination,” the young ‘thal’s eyes widened and he called up another page.  “It appears your profile failed the deeper review and was passed on to Level Three—that’s very unusual.”

   A quick glance to Silver Eagle gave me no help, so I asked what that meant for our application, and what could be done to clear the way for us.  “A scan at that level involves direct supervision of the computer search, and expands the data-scan to areas with limited access…normally, procedures call for a re-sampling of the subject’s DNA.  Are you willing to go through with that?”

I put my arm around the waist of my blond friend and he spoke for both of us.  “Of course, that’s why we came down here.  We want to move ahead with things as soon as possible.  We’re discussing what traits we want in our female-mate.”

There was a pause from the clerk, then he opened a new page in his records.  “If you’ll just review this information, we’ll go back and do the sampling—it won’t take long at all, then we just wait for the results.  Those should come through in an hour at most.”  The page was a standard permission form for a DNA scan and gave all the details I’d provided previously—address, vital statistics, academic records.  When I saw everything was correct, I confirmed it with the optical scanner and we waited for the files to upload to the Triad’s Computer Center.

A door slid open to the right of the desk and a nice-looking guy who appeared to be around twenty-five came forward, making the heart-gesture even though he was human.  With nano-tech implants he could be the age he appeared, or decades—or centuries—older.  “If you’ll follow me…my name’s Richard.  This’ll be quick and painless.”  His hair was brown and long, which served only to accentuate the brightness of his smile.  He was dressed in a pale blue smock and shorts with the Triad Board’s inverted triangle on the right breast.

The room we entered could have been easily identified as an examination room by any doctor for the last six hundred years, though some of the equipment would have been unfamiliar to those from the early Twentieth.  The main furnishing was the exam couch itself, which incorporated sensors for the normal statistics of blood pressure, temperature, weight, fat ratio and height.  A recessed light fixture above was currently set to Earth-norm sunlight, but could vary from that to infrared and ultraviolet if needed.  A cabinet held items for temporarily setting broken bones and bad cuts until nano-bots could complete their work, and an auto-dispenser for various medicinal fluids and tablets.

“Please hop up on the table, Mr. Halveg, and pull up your shirt for me…”  As I did so, Richard got a thing which looked like an old-style pistol out of a drawer and did some fiddling with the settings on it until he was satisfied.  “Now, if you’ll lay back, we’ll get that sample for you.”  With his other hand, he flicked a switch on the side of the couch and the light cycled into the blue range of the spectrum before seeming to disappear.  There was a prickly sensation on my mid-section that I was informed was the sterilization field getting rid of any unwanted life-forms which might interfere with the purity of my sample.

“What’s that thing you’re holding,” I asked in a voice I hoped sounded less nervous than I felt.  On Earth, doctor visits had been less automated and in some ways even primitive.  I had a distrust of needles, and was wondering if the gun-thing would use something like that to take my DNA.  My fear grew when I saw a silvery near-invisible tube extend an inch or so from the muzzle.  A beeping alerted Richard to a spike in my blood pressure and my nanos got it under control in seconds, but he still smiled at me.  “Relax…it’s not a needle, won’t even break the skin.  It’s a pneumatic sampler which uses micro-jets to secure a few epithelial cells from your stomach lining.  You might feel a slight pressure, but nothing more.”

Silver Eagle took my hand and gave it a squeeze.  “Harm’s only been on Luna for two years—before that he grew up on Earth.”  I watched Richard’s face change from curiosity to concern, then once more back to friendly reassurance.  “Ah…don’t worry, we’re light years ahead of the Authority’s medtechs.”  He asked a few questions about my travels, and mentioned his family lived up in Aristarchus, working on the thermal plants which powered most of Luna’s heavy industry.

“All done,” he said with a chuckle.  He put the device in a special reader set in the wall, and punched in an ID number from my files.  “This encodes the sample and sends it to the central computer for registration and analysis, then you’ll be all set.”

“How long until we hear from the Board,” Silver Eagle asked as I sat up and pulled my shirt back into place.  “We’ve been going through this process for more than a month now…”

Richard opened the door and led us back to the atrium, where he nodded to the clerk.  “Give it an hour or two for analysis, then it’s up to the gods—if officialdom smiles on you, it could be later today, three at most if they want to look important.”  His laugh was mirrored in the ‘thal clerk’s jaw-drop smile.

“Happy Hunting,” the clerk said as we passed into the corridor.

* * * * * * * * * *

Before we got back to our apartment, we decided to stop at an open-air café on one of the terraces that made up one of Tycho crater’s walls.  The artificial sky was blue with scattered clouds, and the ‘sun’ appeared to be just after 2P.M., though the actual lunar time bore no relation to that of Earth.  Each ‘day’ was the equivalent of two weeks on Earth, with the ‘night’ being the same.  From the earliest days, time had been set to show Earth’s divisions into hours and weeks, keeping synch with Greenwich Mean Time as the standard.  Every city or lab, no matter its’ location, kept the same time.  It really didn’t matter when there was no exposure to a natural sky.

After I took a bite of my steak, I gave Silver Eagle a puzzled look.  “Was I imagining things when the clerk seemed to hesitate at the mention of finding a female-mate?”

Some Neanderthal expressions were hard to decipher, hence the need for supplemental gestures, but Eagle’s blush was obvious, as were his downcast eyes.  We’d known each other for nearly the entire two years I’d been here since we shared the same classes in school, but this was the first time I’d seen him so uncomfortable.  ‘Thal society was far more open than any I’d seen on Earth, so I was at a loss to understand what was bothering my co-mate.  I didn’t think there was any topic we hadn’t talked about in the time we’d been together—but then, I was a newcomer to Tycho, so I probably missed a lot of subtle background the native ‘Lunatics’ took for granted.

“Come on, Sil…talk to me!”

The blond finished chewing his bite of fish, then reached across to take my hand in his.  His grip was firm as his thumb rubbed the back of my hand in little circles.  “It goes back to our early days…in the first decades since Father created us; gene-reading and coding weren’t as advanced as they are now, so the genetic stock was limited…”  I nodded to show I was following him so far—a viable population needed a certain number of people to survive, and if that number wasn’t watched, in-breeding could doom it to increasing problems of all sorts and severities.

“When you add in the factor of females being in season once a year, the diversity is doubly important.”  That made sense, but I still wasn’t getting his point.  “Harm, the Triad Board was set up to oversee our breeding program…to insure no close-matings occurred, and that the gene pool was increased as much as possible.  It’s been that way for almost four centuries and has worked well enough, but there was also a corollary: to keep the genetic pool pure….”

To say I was shocked was an understatement, and it showed plainly in my expression of near-disgust.  “No, no—it’s not like the Genetic Authority!  The Board doesn’t care who registers as co-mates, regardless of species or gender—the only restriction comes when conceiving children.  A human co-mate can breed freely with another human, and a ‘thal with a ‘thal…but not together.  I don’t think it’s an actual law, but our numbers were so low for so long that it became a tradition.

“If it’s any consolation, even if you were a ‘thal, our DNA couldn’t be mixed to father a child—it narrows the gene-pool, at least in theory.”  Silver Eagle attempted a chuckle, but it fell flat.  I could see he was hurt, thinking that he’d done something to disappoint me…but he hadn’t, and I was quick to show him that by leaning forward to kiss him soundly on the mouth.

Was I upset at this news?  I didn’t think so…my emotions were tied up with Silver Eagle, not in the idea of being a father—I was only seventeen, and there were years ahead of me for that.  I felt no attraction for girls at this point, and wondered if I ever would…but unlike back in the Twentieth, I didn’t have to have sex with a woman to be a father.  A trip or two to a genetic bank and my seed could be stored until some woman decided she just had to have a child by me.  I didn’t hold my breath thinking about that—I was okay-looking, but nothing special, and had no outstanding talents that I could think of. 

Yeah, some day I’d be a real catch!

“Come on, Sil, let’s go home and practice becoming daddies…”  We were well occupied with trying to fertilize one another when the door buzzer sounded.  We ignored it for several minutes, but it kept on, and finally, a message came over my implant: “Harman Halveg, you’ve stirred up a storm—open up or I’ll over-ride the security protocols.”

I whispered to Silver Eagle what the message said, and he swore softly.  We had no idea what was going on, but the authoritative tone left no doubt in my mind that obedience wasn’t optional.  I didn’t recognize the voice, and he gave no name, but you could tell the speaker was not used to having his orders questioned.  “Just a second, I’m getting dressed…” I sub-vocalized.

With shorts on, we rushed to the door and I pressed the pad to open it.  Standing on the other side, half-glowering, was a red-haired burly ‘thal who looked vaguely familiar, though I was sure we’d never met…

“Two-Sapphire,” Silver Eagle blurted….