"Keep 'em moving. Let's go. God, I hate being out in this shit. I said keep moving," and the guard slammed his rifle into the back of one of the new arrivals lagging behind.
"That's a 50,000 credit piece of machinery you're fucking with, Karl," the warehouse manager said over the guard's headset. "Break it, you bought it."
"Machinery, my ass," Karl Nostram said and snarled. "They're fucking freaks."
"Expensive freaks. Without them, you'd be working in this shit all the time."
You're right, damn your eyes, Nostram thought as he stepped back to allow more of the shipment to pass. Some of the cargo were supplies necessary for the human contingent, but the Genetechs were the most important. Genetechs: the bioengineered creatures created specifically to survive and function effectively in the harsh environment of Caligary and elsewhere. And even Nostram would admit the manufacturers had done an excellent job. Each of their creations was roughly six feet tall, with green scaly skin, webbed feet, webbed hands, and gills. They would perform much of their work in the vast Caligary sea, but even on the few scattered islands, gills were necessary because the hot, endless fog was so thick a human could nearly drown in it. "Better you than me, pal," he muttered as he ushered another of the creatures toward the warehouse.
The manager of the mining facility, Pyr Tao, remained in his climate-controlled office until the unloading was complete, and the hatches were shut and sealed. He almost never left the headquarters as he hated donning the equipment necessary to work, let alone survive, outside. Now he reluctantly forced his five-foot frame into the warehouse, still nearly overwhelmingly hot and humid from the brief intrusion of the outdoors, to view the new arrivals. The Genetechs were lined up as if on military inspection. He glanced at them, then at the manifest he held. "0114D," he said.
One of the cargo raised its hand. During creation, they had been programmed with everything they needed to know in order to successfully mine in the vast Caligary sea, including enough language to follow orders. They were not, however, taught to speak.
Tao jotted a note on his manifest. "0117D." Another nodded, and he soon had the fifteen new miners accounted for. "Good; we're through for now. I need you, you and you," and he picked out three Genetechs, "to remain. The rest of you follow mister Nostram to your quarters." After the others complied, Tao took the three remaining to the back of the warehouse, where a small group of humans was opening the containers. "You two help them. You," and he grabbed one by the arm, "come with me." They went directly to Tao's office, where he immediately shut the door and closed the blinds. He sat behind his desk and studied the Genetech for a moment. He found it difficult not to believe a real Genetech was seated across from him, rather than a modified man. How could anyone defile his body that way? Yet he had been assured what sat before him was the company's best investigator, so he managed to smile. "It's not too cold for you, is it?'
The Genetech picked up an electronic pad from Tao's desk, then, using one of its claws as a stylus, wrote, "I can deal with it."
"That's right; you can't talk." He opened a desk drawer and pulled out a box. "Smoke?" he asked as he removed a cigar.
Again it wrote rapidly. "If I could. The gills make it impossible."
"Sorry." He lit his and took a deep breath before continuing. "Would a computer be easier?" The creature held up its hands so he could see the claws. They were adequate as a stylus, not so much as fingers. "Guess not. You know why you're here?"
The agent wrote rapidly. "You said workers were dying out more rapidly than they should, or at least appear to be. If you could have provided us with one of the bodies, we might have been able to find out why."
"That's the problem: there are none. They just...disappear. Are they being killed and eaten by some predator we aren't aware of? Or are they just going AWOL? We need to know, and know now."
"I see." The agent sat back in its chair and crossed its legs, then wrote. "Have they established any type of societal structure?"
"To my knowledge, no. But then I don't deal with them on a daily basis." He paused. "I'm sorry, but I have to ask. How did they do it?"
It pointed to its body. "Biomechanical. Implants, a nanosuit, immunosuppressive drugs. Very expensive and very temporary. I can maintain this disguise for about a week, then the inevitable system rejections will begin."
Tao frowned. "But it took over a month to get here."
"In stasis the entire trip. Don't worry; I should have time to complete this assignment before I must revert. Believe me, I don't want to be on Caligary when that happens."
"And if you are?"
"Then put me in stasis and lock me away until the next ship arrives. I should join the others before they become curious."
"Of course." Tao stood and held out his hand. "What is your name?"
It pointed to itself, then wrote, "What it says on the manifest. 0124D."
"I can't call you that. What's your human name?"
It shrugged. "It's Adam Cain. Just call me Adam."
"Call me Pyr. Just go left once you're outside. You'll reach their dormitory in no time."
Cain nodded. "We won't meet again until I have something to tell you." Then it returned the pad to the desk.
"Understood. I'm sure you'll have better luck than we have."
Not luck, Cain thought as he left. I'm here because you are all incompetent. All they had to do was implant subcutaneous tracking devices on every one of their Genetechs. If they were indeed escaping, then it should be a simple matter to find them. Of course, if they are being eaten...
Cain quickly forced that idea aside. Unlike the other Genetechs, he was able to defend himself. Every Genetech was programmed to be totally subservient to their masters, which necessarily entailed a reduced sense of self-protection and self-worth. Skeptics would dismiss them as mere robots, although they were far more adaptable -- and in many cases more disposable. His superiors at Piers Enterprises were certain these particular products could not be swimming to freedom. But if their client was telling the truth and no remains could be found, then it was imperative they discover what was truly happening. If there was a problem with the conditioning program, for example, it had to be discovered and corrected immediately at the risk of losing other clients.
Thus he had been summoned, modified and sent to Caligary. I hope this is going to be a short stay, he thought as he made his way to the living quarters of the Genetechs. Once he arrived, it reminded him of a giant birdcage. There was a concrete slab for the floor, and the three walls were merely screens. There was no ceiling. The area was totally open to the harsh Caligary weather, although he discovered immediately that was actually preferable to being inside a building. This body thrived in high heat and humidity, and just a glance at those around him convinced him they weren't uncomfortable. He was going to be, he thought glumly as he found an opening and squatted on the floor. There were no cots or other bedding provided, so presumably, he would have to sleep sitting up. It made him think of a roosting hen, an image strengthened by the coop they were in.
The overwhelming quiet ruined the metaphor. Beyond the sounds created by the weather, the only noise from the Genetechs was the occasional gulping sound as one of them fed off the airborne local flora and fauna. They could survive on that; he could not. But a nourishment capsule that released necessary nutrients was built into his nanosuit. He would not have to eat until he had it removed aboard his ship.
The others were falling asleep, but he remained awake. What kind of society have you created? he wondered. If you have at all. The mines had been in operation more than ten years now, and the socialization imperative could not be completely programmed out of the creatures, especially considering they were amalgams of other creatures. In fact it was best it not be. Presumably a few of them had survived from the beginning. There had to be a hierarchy; he had to find out which one was the leader. Only then, he was sure, would he discover what had happened to the others.