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Authors: Keith Brooke

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Genetopia

BOOK: Genetopia
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Genetopia

Keith Brooke

infinity plus

Genetopia

Genetopia is the story of a young man in search of his possibly abducted sister in a far future where nano- and biotechnology have transformed and accelerated the evolution of humans and their strangely altered surroundings. In this world, you can never take anything -- or anyone -- at face value. Illness and contact with the unknown are always to be feared, as viruses re-engineer genes and germ cells, migrating traits from species to species through plague and fever. Humankind lives in isolated communities, connected by trade routes, and always fighting to keep the unclean at arm's length.

But if Flint is to find his sister he must brave the fevers, the legendary beasts, the unknown. He must enter strange communities and seek help in the most unlikely places. He must confront both his own dark past and the future of his kind.

He must go into the wildlands.

Flint's story is the story of the last true humans, and of the struggles between those who want to defend their heritage and those who choose to embrace the new. But Flint doesn't see it like that: he just wants to find his sister.

Published by infinity plus at Smashwords
www.infinityplus.co.uk/books
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© Keith Brooke 2006, 2012

ISBN: 9781301233878

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

No portion of this book may be reproduced by any means, mechanical, electronic, or otherwise, without first obtaining the permission of the copyright holder.

The moral right of Keith Brooke to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988.

Cover images © Dundanim and Zacarias Pereira Da Mata
(both Dreamstime.com)

First published in 2006 in hardback by Pyr Books.
This edition published in paperback and ebook formats in 2012.

Electronic version by Baen Books

By the same author

Novels

Keepers of the Peace

Expatria

Expatria Incorporated

Lord of Stone

Piggies
(as Nick Gifford)

Flesh and Blood
(as Nick Gifford)

Incubus
(as Nick Gifford)

Genetopia

Erased
(as Nick Gifford)

The Accord

The Unlikely World of Faraway Frankie

alt.human
(published as
Harmony
in North America)

 

Collections

Head Shots

Parallax View
(with Eric Brown)

Embrace: tales from the dark side

Segue: into the strange

Faking It: accounts of the General Genetics Corporation

Liberty Spin: scientifiction

Memesis: modifiction

 

Edited

Infinity Plus
(with Nick Gevers)

The Sub-genres of Science Fiction: strange divisions and alien territories

For Debbie, forever.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

My thanks to...

...Pete Tillman, for an illuminating discussion about the archaeology of lost civilisations

...Peter Patrick, scholar of pidgins and creoles, for helping my mutts mutter believably

...Eric Brown and Alison Brooke, for their typically incisive critiques of various drafts of this novel

...Chris Evans and Rob Holdstock, for publishing the story which first set me on the way to Genetopia, back in 1989

...Sarah Molloy, as ever, for her first-class agenting and author-minding skills

...and Lou Anders, for, ahem, his excellent taste and judgement

Chapter 1

In the day’s harsh sunlight the Leaving Hill appeared white with bones. Flintreco Eltarn adjusted his sunhood and scrambled up the last of the rough incline, following the path his sister had taken moments before. It was good to get away after a morning spent working the fruit trees of the family holding.

Amberline sat on a rocky outcrop at the crown of the hill, bare toes playing with chalky fragments. She stared down at Flint from under thick chestnut hair, her eyes at once fixing him and focusing dreamily in the distance, it seemed.

When Flint sat by his sister, her head barely reached the level of his chin. He gestured to the sky, the sun. “You should cover up,” he said. “You’ll have Granny Han popping cysts from your skin again if you’re not careful.”

Flint knew how much his sister hated the healings, when Granny Han excised the little brown sun-blisters from her skin. He knew she would ignore him, too.

The dry breeze carried a soft whimpering sound to their ears. A pup in the last throes of exposure, perhaps. Probably just a herd of hogs, scavenging somewhere on the hill. Down below, the jungle hummed with the soft trumpetings of courting dawn oaks, wooing the birds with their calls, their promises of dark nectar.

“What if they were human?” asked Amber, softly, turning a bone in her hand. It was cupped, curved, barely the width of her palm. A collarbone, Flint thought, from a pup barely days into its short life.

“They are not,” said Flint. “That’s why they’re here.”

He and Amber came here occasionally, usually on whim, as they had done today. Flint felt that the Leaving Hill had more of a pull on Amber than it did on him, but it was indeed a special place, a place with a powerful grip over all True people.

“All of them?” she persisted. “Every last one of them Lost, corrupted, changed...? No one ever makes mistakes?”

“People are careful,” said Flint. “A pup would never be exposed unless a parent is certain that it is Lost. Human life is too valuable.”

“Then...” Amber dropped the collarbone and shook her long hair in the sunlight. “Then people must err in the other direction. Some of the Lost must pass as True. What if that happens, Flint? What if I were not human? What if you were not human? Do you think that ever happens?”

Her eyes were fixed on him now. Eyes stained piss-yellow by childhood illness. Eyes that both entranced and scared, hinting at corruption, at change. This was Amber’s big fear: in a world where illness can steal humanity, where change is prevalent and feared, at what point does a damaged human cease to be True?

Flint, in his ever-steady way, gave her questions serious consideration. He met her look and nodded. “It’s only natural to wonder,” he told her. “Only natural to fear the change and to question your own status.” He paused and spread his hands wide, palms upwards.

“But don’t worry,” he concluded. “If you were not True we’d just sell you to the mutt trade.”

A flash of anger quickly transformed into a wild, mischievous grin, and then Amber hurled herself at her brother.

She struck him in the chest, and together they tumbled from their rocky perch.

Flint cried out as bones and rocks broke his fall.

Wrestling, they rolled down the slope a short way before coming to rest.

Amber held him in a headlock.

“Okay, okay,” Flint gasped. “I won’t sell you yet!”

She released him and he turned his head to one side, gasping, spitting grit. A handspan from his head, a small body lay naked in the dirt. A pup, dead several days, he guessed. Pale flesh clung in tatters to its tiny body, where scavengers had feasted.

No: not
body

bodies
. A double body, joined from chest to hip; two legs, three arms, two heads–one skull grossly distorted, twice the size of the other.

Sometimes it was easy to distinguish the True from the Lost.

Overhead, vultures soared patiently on a midday thermal.

~

On the way back down to Trecosann from the Leaving Hill they met the Tallyman.

“Mister Flintreco Eltarn,” he said. “Mistress Amberlinetreco Eltarn.” He lingered over Amber’s fullname, caressing the syllables with his tongue.

The Tallyman was a tall, attenuated figure, stooped under heavy robes, face shaded under a capacious sunhood. There were not many occasions when Flint had to look up to meet someone’s gaze, yet the Tallyman, stooped as he was, stood a good handspan taller.

The Tallyman comes

in the dead of the night.

When the Tallyman comes

you’d better take fright!

Children’s rhymes, stories told on dark winter evenings, schoolyard rumours and gossip.
Never trust the Tallyman!

“Tallyman,” said Flint, his tone civil. Everyone had their function, he knew. Even tallymen. The Tallyman was a money-lender, a purchaser and collector of debts, a gatherer of favours and promises, used by everyone from Clan Elder to the lowliest bondsman. Universally used, universally despised.

Now, the Tallyman stood in their path where the jungle wrapped its lush green fingers around the base of the Leaving Hill.

Flint took a step down the path, pausing when the Tallyman stood his ground. “We...” he gestured along the path, indicating that the Tallyman was in their way. Now he could smell the Tallyman’s animal odour, mixing with the damp earthy scents of the forest.

In the shade of the Tallyman’s hood, Flint could see the old man’s eyes peering out at Amber. Flint was aware again of how much his sister exposed of herself, depite the midday sun: bare arms, bare head, bare legs below the knee.

The Tallyman’s eyes roved, lingered.

“We wish to pass,” said Flint, his tone more brusque now.

“Do as you like, young sir,” said the Tallyman, eyes never leaving Amber. “Be free to leave the young miss with me, though. Me can look after her.” The Tallyman spoke in a rough hybrid of pidgin and true speech–for effect, Flint was sure.

“You talk about me as if I’m property... livestock,” said Amber aggressively.

Again, the Tallyman’s eyes roved the length of her body. “What Jesckatreco Elthom says is true,” he mused. “This one has spirit, all right.”

“Jescka?” asked Flint. “You’ve spoken with our mother?”

The Tallyman nodded. “A fine woman. Her done ask me to come looking for sir and young miss. Done say they might be up with the bones. Done give me a message for ’em.”

Amber was glowering at the Tallyman, but Flint saw clearly that she enjoyed his attention. She was four years younger than Flint and it was only now, in this instant, that he realised she was on the brink of maturity, feelings both adult and childish at play. For a moment he saw her as the Tallyman must see her and he felt immediately angry and protective.

“A message?” he asked.

The Tallyman shifted his gaze reluctantly to Flint. “You’re to stay with Callumtreco Elthom and his family tonight,” he said. “They need help at the dipping baths and your mother done offer you out to them.”

“Thank you,” said Flint stiffly.
Offered out
like mutts...

“Tallyman trades favours,” said the old man, finally stepping aside. He leered at Amber from beneath his hood. “What favours you got in return, eh?”

“I’m sure Jescka has paid for your services,” said Flint frostily. “You can expect nothing from us in return for your message.”

“Sir can do as he likes,” said the Tallyman, menacingly close as they passed. “But young mistress... Young mistress can come with Tallyman, see the world. Tallyman can show young mistress far more than she’s ever dreamed.”

The two hurried past, Fling squeezing Amber’s hand.

Soon the Tallyman was lost behind them in the twists and turns of the track. Maybe he still stood there, maybe he had gone up to the Leaving Hill for whatever nefarious purpose he may have, maybe he was following them, even now.

Amber started to giggle, the child in her winning over the woman. “You’re so
straight
, big brother Flint,” she said. “You should have seen your
face
.”

She pulled free of his grip and used both hands to push her breasts up and together. “You saw where he was looking, didn’t you, Flin’? All the time, he was talking to
these
.”

Flint felt his cheeks burning. “Come on, little sister,” he said. “Let’s go to Callum’s.”

There would be a feast tonight, after the dipping and the cleansing, a gathering of Clan Treco from all around. A time of celebration, a time to rejoice in the gennering arts that made the Clan renowned throughout the region.

It was a time Flint dreaded, a time that haunted his darkest hours.

~

The track led Flint and Amber through the bellycane paddies, thrumming with chorusing frogs and insects, to the edge of Trecosann.

The town was alive with activity and anticipation. It was the start of the market festival and many visitors had come from outlying districts. But also, there was a gathering of the clan, a spontaneous and irregular event.

The bazaar was packed, stalls overflowing from the trading square and out into the surrounding streets, lined two or three deep and leaving room only for foot traffic.

Flint recognised many of the faces, traders who only came to Trecosann at market festival time, many of them freemen who lived in protected settlements and enclaves in the wildlands between towns.

He nodded in greeting to Jemmie the old dentist, working away at his foot-powered drill. He waved to Jemmie’s daughter, Lizabel, who sold sweet buttered tea to her father’s customers–her sugar and pain-killing herbs ensuring a steady trade.

“Maybe you’re not so straight, after all,” whispered Amber, noticing the direction of Flint’s look.

“I am a grown man,” he muttered, trying to ignore his sister’s raised eyebrow and smirk.

They moved on, into the heart of the market, pausing at stalls as whim took them. Rugs and leatherwork; self-sealing clothing woven from Ritt smartfibres; jewellery made from bones and shells and amber beads; potions and cures and aphrodisiacs brewed from wild herbs–”guaranteed clean”.

Amber bought a jaggery stick from a smart mutt child and bit into it, pulling at the stringy pulp with her teeth.

“We should make our way to Callum’s,” said Flint, as they paused to watch a fiddler play to a pair of dancing crafted dogs. The beasts’ hind legs were splayed, giving them better balance as they twisted sinuously upright, front paws describing arcane shapes in the air.

“Dear Flint,” said Amber. “My dear, terribly-straight Flint. You need to learn how to enjoy life, darling brother.” She blew him a kiss, eyes mad with jaggery rush. “It’s market festival, Flin’! Stop worrying about me all the time and learn to relax!”

He turned away. Away from his sister, who he knew was right; away from the two dancing dogs, their morphs crafted beyond their true form. He’d looked out for Amber as they grew up together, stood up and defended her when her behaviour had led to trouble, reassured and protected her when their father had grown drunk and violent, their mother wilful and abusive.

And now she was telling him to relax.

He found a water fountain and drank deeply, then pushed his hood back and splashed water over his face.

Amber often cut straight to the truth of the matter. It was true that he was straight, unwilling to let go. But someone had to be on guard, protecting their interests. It was a role he had adopted from an early age.

He realised he had lost sight of her in the crowd–thronging now, but nothing compared to what it would become when all of the clan and other visitors had arrived.

He rubbed at the moisture on his face, ran his hands through his thick black hair. The ache at the top of his spine was suddenly intense and he rolled his shoulders, arched his back.

Stepping aside to let cousin Mallery get to the water, he scanned the crowd. “Hey, Mallery,” he said. “Have you seen my little sister? She was watching the dogs a minute ago.”

Mallery, a stocky young man with a thick black beard, straightened and shrugged. “Might be at the auction square,” he said.

Flint nodded. The auctions were always the heart of any market festival. Mutts would be up for sale there, along with a range of crafted animals, their bodies morphed and remixed in the changing vats. As children, he and Amber had always gravitated towards the auction square, intrigued by the range of livestock on display.

He set off, leaving his cousin to wash at the fountain.

~

The smell was always intense, a rich, faecal, pheromonal fug that intoxicated, emetised. Stock pens packed close together, low barriers all that were required to keep the lots in bound–in most cases, at any rate.

The livestock knew their place. It was in their breeding, in their bones: a molecular bonding of devotion and duty to the true humans. No matter how far a beast was morphed, the bond was fundamental to its nature; any that deviated from the devotional norm were weeded out rapidly. Humankind was always at the top of the pyramid.

And so the stock stood, squatted, lounged in their pens. The mutts ever-patient, the crafted beasts less so, and occasional fights broke out between goats and hogs and other modified creatures.

Flint strolled through the auction square, pausing to chat with relatives and friends, but he couldn’t see Amber. It didn’t worry him unduly: she was wilful like her mother, liable to take offence at the most trifling of comments, to head off on her own whenever fancy struck. The festival was always an exciting time: she would make her way to Callum’s holding in time for the dipping, he was sure.

He stopped to look at a family of mutts, wondering if his father had sobered himself up enough to come looking yet. Most of the mutt trade here was passing through, mutt dealers pausing at the festival en route to the Tenkan gang-farms in the south, where they were guaranteed sales. Most of the mutts kept in Trecosann were bred locally, but sometimes they would buy in some new blood from the traders.

While crafted beasts were animal stock–twisted and remixed in the vats, bred and interbred to establish new lines–mutts had their origins in the long-lost past in genuine human stock. Many could pass for human at a glance although, equally, many could not.

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