Read Beggars and Choosers Online
Authors: Nancy Kress
Tags: #Fiction, #Science Fiction, #General
This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events
portrayed in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to real
people or events is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 1994 by Nancy Kress
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this
book, or portions thereof, in any form.
This book is printed on acid-free paper.
Edited by David G. Hartwell
A Tor Book
Published by Tom Doherty Associates, Inc.
175 Fifth Avenue
New York, N.Y. 10010
Tor® is a registered trademark of Tom Doherty Associates,
Inc. Design by Lynn Newmark
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Beggars & Choosers / Nancy Kress.
First edition: October 1994
Printed in the United States of America
To Miriam Grace Monfredo and Mary Stanton without whose friendship
in a bad time this book would not have been finished.
The clanging of the priority-one override alarm ripped through the
cavernous backstage dressing room. Drew Arlen, the only occupant,
jerked his head toward the holoterminal beside his dressing table. The
screen registered his retina scan and Leisha Camden’s face appeared.
“Drew! Have you heard?”
The man in the powerchair, upper body fanatically muscled above his
crippled legs, turned back to putting on his eye makeup. He leaned into
the dressing table mirror. “Heard what?”
“Did you see the six o’clock
“Leisha, I go on stage in fifteen minutes. I haven’t listened to
anything.” He heard the thickening in his own voice, and hoped she
didn’t. Even after all this time. Even at just the sight of her holo.
“Miranda and the Supers… Miranda… Drew, they’ve built an entire
Off the coast of Mexico. Using nanotech and the atoms in seawater, and
“An island,” Drew repeated. He frowned into the mirror, rubbed at
his makeup, applied more.
“Not a floating construct. An actual island, that goes all the way
down to the continental shelf. Did you know about this?”
“Leisha, I have a concert in fifteen minutes…”
“You did, didn’t you. You knew what Miranda was doing. Why didn’t
Drew turned his powerchair to face Leisha’s golden hair, green eyes,
genemod perfect skin. She looked thirty-five. She was ninety-eight
He said, “Why didn’t Miranda tell you?”
Leisha’s expression quieted. “You’re right. It was Miranda’s place
to tell me. And she didn’t. There’s a lot she doesn’t tell me, isn’t
A long moment passed before Drew said softly, “It isn’t easy being
on the outside for a change, is it, Leisha?”
She said, equally softly, “You’ve waited a long time to be able to
say that to me, haven’t you, Drew?”
He looked away. In the corner of the huge silent room something
rustled: a mouse, or a defective ‘bot.
Leisha said, “Are they moving to this new island? All twenty-seven
“No one in the scientific community even knew nanotech had reached
“Nobody else’s nanotech has.”
Leisha said, “They’re not going to let me on that island, are they?
He listened to the complex undertones in her voice. Leisha’s
generation of Sleepless, the first generation, could never hide their
feelings. Unlike Miranda’s generation, who could hide anything.
“No,” Drew said. “They’re not.”
“They’ll shield the island with something that Terry Mwakambe
invents, and you’ll be the only non-Super ever allowed to know what
they’re doing there.”
He didn’t answer. A technician stuck his head diffidently in the
door. “Ten minutes, Mr. Arlen, sir.”
“Yes. I’m coming.”
“Huge crowd tonight, sir. All pumped up.”
“Yes. Thank you.” The tech’s head disappeared.
“Drew,” Leisha said, her voice splintering. “She’s as much a
daughter to me as you were a son… what is Miranda planning out on that
“I don’t know,” Drew said, and it was both a lie and not a lie, in
ways that Leisha could never understand. “Leisha, I have to be on stage
in nine minutes.”
“Yes,” Leisha said wearily. “I know. You’re the Lucid Dreamer.”
Drew stared again at her holo-image: the lovely curve of cheek, the
unaging Sleepless skin, the suspicion of water in the green eyes. She
had been the most important person in his world, and in the larger
public world. And now, although she didn’t know it yet, she was
“Yes,” he said. “That’s right. I’m the Lucid Dreamer.”
The holostage blanked, and he went back to his makeup for the stage.
Concern for man himself and his fate must always form the chief
interest of all technical endeavours, concern for the great unsolved
problems of the organization of labor and the distribution of goods—in
order that the creations of our mind shall be a blessing and not a
curse to mankind.
—Albert Einstein, address to California Institute of
DIANA COVINGTON: SAN FRANCISCO
For some of us, of course, nothing would be enough. That sentence
can be taken two ways, can’t it? But I don’t mean that having nothing
would ever be satisfactory to us. It isn’t even satisfactory to Livers,
no matter what pathetic claims they lay to an “aristo life of leisure.”
Yes. Right. There isn’t a single one of us that doesn’t know better. We
donkeys could always recognize seething dissatisfaction. We saw it
daily in the mirror.
My IQ wasn’t boosted as high as Paul’s.
My parents couldn’t afford all the genemods Aaron got.
My company hasn’t made it as big as Karen’s.
My skin isn’t as small-pored as Gina’s.
My constituency is more demanding than Luke’s. Do the
bloodsucking voters think I’m made of money?
My dog is less cutting-edge genemod than Stephanie’s dog.
It was, in fact, Stephanie’s dog that made me decide to change my
life. I know how that sounds. There’s nothing about the start of my
service with the Genetic Standards Enforcement Agency that doesn’t
sound ridiculous. Why not start with Stephanie’s dog? It brings a
certain satiric panache to the story. I could dine out on it for months.
If, of course, anyone were ever going to dine out again.
Panache is such a perishable quality.
Stephanie brought her dog to my apartment in the Bayview Security
Enclave on a Sunday morning in July. The day before, I’d bought pots of
new flowers from BioForms in Oakland and they cascaded over the terrace
railing, a riot of blues much more varied than the colors of San
Francisco Bay, six stories below.
“Diana,” Stephanie said, through the Y-energy shield spanning the
space between my open French doors. “Knock knock.”
“How’d you get into the apartment?” I said, mildly annoyed. I hadn’t
given Stephanie my security code. I didn’t like her enough.
“Your code’s broken. It’s on the police net. Thought you’d like to
know.” Stephanie was a cop. Not with the district police, which was
rough and dirty work down among the Livers. Not our Stephanie. She
owned a company that furnished patrol ‘bots for enclave security. She
designed the ’bots herself. Her firm, which was spectacularly
successful, held contracts with a sizable number of San Francisco
enclaves, although not with mine. Telling me my code was on the ‘bot
net was her ungraceful way of needling me because my enclave used a
different police force.
I lounged back on my chaise and reached for my drink. The closest
blue flowers yearned toward my hand.
“You’re giving them an erection,” Stephanie said, walking through
the French doors. “Oh, anise cookies! Mind if I give one to Katous?”
The dog followed her from the cool dimness of my apartment and stood
blinking and sniffing in the bright sunshine. It was clearly,
aggressively, illegally genemod. The Genetic Standards Enforcement
Agency may allow fanciful tinkering with flowers, but not with animal
phyla higher than fish. The rules are very clear, backed up by court
cases whose harsh financial penalties make them even clearer. No
genemods that cause pain. No genemods that create weaponry, in its
broadest definition. No genemods that “alter external appearance or
basic internal functioning such that a creature deviates significantly
from other members of not only its species but also its breed.” A
collie may pace and single-foot, but it better still look like Lassie.
And never, never, never any genemod that is inheritable. Nobody
wants another fiasco like the Sleepless. Even my penile flowers were
sterile. And genemod human beings, we donkeys, were all individually
handcrafted, in vitro one-of-a-kind collector’s items. Such is order
maintained in our orderly world. So saith Supreme Court Chief Justice
Richard J. Milano, writing the majority opinion for
Genetic Standards Enforcement Agency
. Humanity must not be altered
past recognition, lest we lose what it means to be human. Two hands,
one head, two eyes, two legs, a functioning heart, the necessity to
breathe and eat and shit, this is humanity in perpetuity. We are
Or, in this case,
dogs. And yet here was Stephanie,
theoretically an officer of the law, standing on my terrace flanked by
a prison-sentence GSEA violation in pink fur. Katous had four adorable
pink ears, identically cocked, aural Rockettes. It had an adorable pink
fur rabbit’s tail. It had huge brown eyes, three times the size of any
dog’s eyes Justice Milano would approve, giving it a soulful, sorrowing
look. It was so adorable and vulnerable-looking I wanted to kick it.
Which might have been the point. Although that, too, might be
construed as illegal. No modifications that cause pain.
“I heard that David moved out,” Stephanie said, crouching to feed an
anise cookie to the quivering pink fur. Oh so casual—just a girl and
her dog, my illegal genemod pet, I live on the edge like this all the
time, doncha know. I wondered if Stephanie knew that “Katous” was
Arabic for “cat.” Of course she did.
“David moved out,” I agreed. “We came to the place where the road
“And who’s next on your road?”
“Nobody.” I sipped my drink without offering Stephanie one. “I
thought I’d live alone for a while.”
“Really.” She touched an aquamarine flower; it wrapped its soft
tubular petal around her finger. Stephanie grinned. “
What about that German software dealer you talked to such a long time
at Paul’s party?”
“What about your dog?” I said pointedly. “Isn’t he pretty illegal
for a cop’s pet?”
“But so cute. Katous, say hello to Diana.”
“Hello,” Katous said.
Slowly I lowered my glass from my mouth.
Dogs couldn’t talk. The vocal equipment didn’t allow it, the law
didn’t allow it, the canine IQ didn’t allow it. Yet Katous’s growled
“hello” was perfectly clear. Katous could talk.
Stephanie lounged against the French doors, enjoying the effect of
her bombshell. I would have given anything to be able to ignore it, to
go on with a neutral, uninterested conversation. I could not manage
“Katous,” I said, “how old are you?”
The dog gazed at me from enormous sorrowful eyes.
“Where do you live, Katous?”
“Are you genemod?”
“Is Katous a dog?”
Was there a shade of sad puzzlement in its brown eyes?
“Katous, are you happy?”
Stephanie said, “His vocabulary is only twenty-two words. Although
he understands more than that.”
“Katous, would you like a cookie? Cookie, Katous?”
He wagged his ridiculous tail and pranced in place. There were no
claws on his toes. “Cookie! Please!”